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780.922 386m2 
Ken of music 


jUL'31 1913 


EE 21 1975 






NEW YORK 20, N. Y. 



Lillian Brockway Simmons 

Edna O. Weinstock 

Introduction to the 
Revised Edition 

Eleven years have elapsed since we finished the manuscript of Men of 
Music, and in those years the book has run through eight printings. It 
was one of the end products of many years of an all but uninterrupted 
conversation about arts and letters. The book appeared, and the con- 
versation went on., particularly about music. We discussed not merely 
what we had already written and published, but also what might have 
gone into it had it been the ideal book we had always wanted to write. 
We took into account both criticisms received and our own evolving 
opinions. By the time it became obvious that a ninth printing was de- 
manded, we felt that Men of Music needed to be corrected in detail, 
brought down to date, and enlarged. This Revised Edition is the result of 
that feeling. 

The phrase "corrected in detail" needs qualification. We did not 
try to recast the entire volume to fit our changed (and ever-changing} 
opinions about the multifarious data that had passed through our minds. 
Rather, the hundred or so small corrections affected chiefiy minor facts. 
Recently unearthed bits of information were occasionally inserted. Rarely 
did we alter a judgment in fact, we did so only when we ourselves 
found a passage we could not read without blushing. For instance, the 
curious are invited to compare our present evaluation of the Verdi Requiem 
with the casual dismissal of that high work of genius in the First Edition. 
On the other hand, in the matter of enunciating points of view that many 
have found unpalatable we remain unreconstructed. 

Bringing Men of Music down to date was a much easier task than 
we might have envisaged had we known, eleven years ago, that we would 
be doing it. Of the twenty-one composers to whom, in the First Edition, 
we devoted a chapter apiece, two of the three who were living then are 
living still. Richard Strauss, whose demise many years earlier would have 
left music none the poorer, died in 1949. Reports of a new symphony 
from the octogenarian Jean Sibelius crop up constantly as they did a 
decade ago. And we still wait for Igor Stravinsky to equal the greatness 
of his early years. Sibelius appears to have created little or nothing since 



our chapter was written. Strauss and Stravinsky have been busy, and their 
latest activities have been faithfully recorded. 

Bringing Men of Music down to date on Strauss and Stravinsky has 
lengthened it, but an added chapter, on Hector Berlioz, is a more con- 
siderable enlargement. Hearing more and more of his music through the 
years had brought us inevitably to the decision that he belonged among 
those great creators portrayed and criticized in Men of Music. We 
were, even in our First Edition, somewhat reluctant to omit him, but 
our excuse at that time was perfectly valid. He was, eleven years ago, 
so little played that we could not, without dishonesty, have pretended to 
judge him. Times have changed, though not enough. Unfortunately, 
several of Berlioz's greatest compositions were available to us only in 
recorded excerpts or in score. But it is a good sign that while we discussed 
>and wrote this new chapter it was possible to hear Berlioz's music (in- 
cluding an uncut performance of Romeo et Juliette) on the radio or 
play it on the gramophone. 

New York 
February 22, 1950 


For the opinions and statements in this book, the authors are 
alone responsible. They feel indebted, however, to numerous 
friends and well-wishers for invaluable practical assistance. They 
wish to thank Richard L. Simon for many illuminating sugges- 
tions. Margaret Sloss, who read the manuscript as it was written, 
and pulled the authors back from the brink of not a few absurdi- 
ties, has their lasting gratitude. They owe much to the stimulating 
editorial comment of the late Henry H. Bellamann and Robert 
A. Simon. Ben Meiselman was of great assistance in preparing 
the index. Finally, Bart Keith Winer undertook the job of read- 
ing complete page proofs of the book, and at the last moment 
removed various unintentionally humorous touches. 

For the revised edition Jacques Barzun's criticisms of the 
added chapter on Berlioz have been invaluable. 

Table of Contents 



Ancestors of Western music. Dunstable and the English polyphonists. 
The Flemings. Josquin hints for preferment. A bad influence. Pales- 
trina the God-intoxicated. Saves music from decadence and extravagance. 
The Improperia and the Missa Papae MarcelH. Wife and money 
troubles. Di Lasso, dramatist in tone. A success story. Mixed motives. 
Seven penitential psalms. Victoria the devout. Spanish rhythms. The 
climax of unaccompanied vocal polyphony in Palestrina, Di Lasso, and 
Victoria. Close of a period. 


Bach's fame. A musical clan. Childhood. Foreign influences. Stubborn- 
ness. Life in Weimar. Appearance. An epitomizer of forms. A duke's 
servant. Cantatas. The greatest organist. Cothen. The Well-Tempered 
Clavichord. The "Brandenburg" Concertos. Leipzig. The Magnificat. 
The St. Matthew Passion. A stickler for rights. The B minor Mass. 
More cantatas. Secular compositions. Bach's sons. Frederick the Great 
and his theme. Musical puzzles. Blindness and death. 


A child prodigy. Johann Mattkeson. Almira, HandeVs first opera. 
Italy. Domenico Scarlatti. Success. Hanover and London. Purcell, Eng- 
land's greatest composer. George I and a false legend. The Water Music. 
Cliques and stage battles. Big box office. Handel clings to tradition. 
Esther, the first English oratorio. Alexander's Feast. Misfortunes and 
illness. Handel as clavier composer. Failure after failure. A chain of 
masterly oratorios. Messiah. The Firework Music. Twelve thousand 
people attend a rehearsal. Blindness and death. Handel as a British vice 
and glory. 


The Renaissance produces opera. It degenerates in France and Italy. 
Opera as a social gathering. Gluck's childhood. He writes conventional 



successes. Visits Handel in London. Marries well. Is knighted by the 
Pope. Reforms ballet. Meets a librettist with ideas. Orfeo ed Euridice. 
Relapse. Alceste. The importance of the overture. Iphigenie en 
Aulide. Marie Antoinette and Sophie Arnould. Armide and a famous 
feud. Iphigenie en Tauride. Reforms. Failures. Social old age. 
Entertains the Mozarts. Disobeys doctor's orders. 


Parliament pays a bill. St. Stephens and a brutal dismissal. A famous 
singing teacher. Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Haydn marries the wrong 
wife. The Esterhdzys. A phlegmatic genius. Excellent working condi- 
tions. An indiscretion. Haydn meets Mozart. And loses his job. Goes to 
England. Becomes the idol of London. The "Salomon" Symphonies. 
Haydn teaches Beethoven. As a symphonist. Gott erhalte Franz den 
Kaiser. The Creation. Its fading luster. The Seasons. Apotheosis 
and death. The rediscovery of Haydn. His string quartets. His lasting 


The rococo. Most dazzling of child prodigies. Leopold Mozart. Maria 
Theresa. Tours. A boy writes operas. Finds Salzburg intolerable. 
Grows up. Violin concertos. Mannheim and the Webers. Back to im- 
prisonment in Salzburg. The Archbishop kicks him out. He marries. 
Die Entfuhrung. Gluck. Poverty and extravagance. Mozart as a 
piano composer. - The concertos. Symphonies. Freemasonry. Plays 
quartets with Haydn. Le Nozze di Figaro. Success in Prague. Don 
Giovanni. A triumph. Hints of the coming century. The three master 
symphonies. Die Zauberflote. A mysterious visitor and the Requiem. 
Death. Mozart' *s overtowering greatness and limitations. 


The French Revolution. A hero. Childhood. Helpful friends. Escape to 
Vienna. Beethoven* s notebooks. Noble patrons. Slow development. Early 
piano sonatas. The First Symphony. The nineteenth century opens. The 
"Heiligenstadt" Testament. Physical afflictions. The mystery of the 
"Immortal Beloved." Piano concertos. Napoleon and a symphony. More 
piano sonatas. Strange career of Fidelia. Its overtures. Beethoven writes 
the Fifth Symphony. The Violin Concerto. M. Lesueur cannot find his 
head. Overtures. The Seventh Symphony. Goethe. Beethoven as puritan. 
Wellington's Victory. Apotheosis. Last piano sonatas. The Missa 
solennis. The Ninth Symphony. Death. The string quartets. 



Relation to Constance Mozart. Trouping childhood. Wild oats. Early 
operas. Life in Prague. Captures Germany with patriotic songs. Der 
Freischutz, the fast romantic opera. The Conzertstiick as program 
music. Spontini stages a spectacle. The failure of Euryanthe. Bee- 
thoven speaks. Weber learns English. Composes Oberon. Ill treat- 
ment in London. Triumph of Oberon. Dies away from home. 


Wagner visits a retired dictator. Childhood in eighteenth-century Italy. 
Early operas. Writes a smash-hit song. An impresario and his mistress. 
The Barber of Seville. Rebellion in Naples. Rossini marries. Advice 
from Beethoven. Semiramide. The siege of Paris. Balzac likes Moise. 
High finance. William Tell. The monarch of opera abdicates. Olympe 
Pelissier. Stabat Mater. A gay old age. Death. 


Unconscious tragedy. Genius and intellect. Mastersongs and doggerel. 
Limitations. Poverty and adoring friends. Masterpieces at eighteen. The 
"Schubertians." The "Forellen" Quintet. Schubert fails with opera. 
Syphilis. The "Unfinished" Symphony. Tales of romance. Composes for 
piano. The song cycles. The C major Symphony. Sees Beethoven. Death 
and a monument. 


A happy life. The wonder child. A Midsummer Night's Dream. The 
rediscovery of Bach. Mendelssohn conquers England. Fingal's Gave. 
Writes tJie "Italian" Symphony. Renovates Dusseldorf. Leipzig , the 
Gewandhaus, and Robert Schumann. St. Paul. Mendelssohn listens 
to Rossini. A romantic marriage. The King of Prussia is difficult. The 
"Scotch" Symphony. Again A Midsummer Night's Dream. The 
Violin Concerto. Elijah. Queen Victoria. Death. Mendelssohn re- 


Heredity and romanticism. Studies law. Quarrels with Friedrich Wieck. 
Papillons. Romance and obstacles. Founds a journal. The Davids- 
bundler. Carnaval. Arrival of Mendelssohn. Wieck is obdurate. Schu- 
mann visits Vienna. Finds Beethoven's pen and a Schubert symphony. 


Marries Clara. Fantasies tiicke and Kreisleriana. The great songs. 
Flaws as a symphonist. Fails as a pedagogue. Signs of mental decay. 
Genoveva. The Piano Concerto. Tragedy and death. Schumann's 


Fame and self-limitation. Childhood in Poland. Weltschmerz. Paris 
in the 1830*5. Noble patrons. Valses. Liszt and polonaises. Another 
Polish dance. Pedagogy. Etudes. Mendelssohn's criticism. Chopin's 
failure as a pianist. Liaison and romance. Nocturnes. Scherzos. George 
Sand. Hell in Majorca. A vigorous corpse. Preludes. Four mad chil- 
dren. The masterly Fantaisie. Break with George Sand. Doting 
women. Purgatory in England. Death from consumption. 


Retarded recognition. A country childhood. Assaults on the Prix de Rome. 
An idee fixe. A marvelous Opus i. The Symphonic fantastique. 
Sojourn in Italy. Marriage. A spot of Byronism. The mighty Requiem. 
Cellini and Shakespeare. Funeral weeds. Wanderjahre. Faust 
damned. Setbacks. Visits to London. L'Enfance du Christ. A 
mammoth opera. More Shakespeare. A classical romantic. Problems and 

xv. FRANZ LISZT 374 

A figure of legend. The master virtuoso. Early amours. Chopin and 
Paganini. Love and Mme d'Agoult. Swiss interlude. Liszt conquers 
Thalberg. Triumphal tours. Creates the piano recital. Lola Montez et 
al. Liszt's children. Weimar and the Princess. He renounces the world. 
Becomes an international celebrity. A fine conductor. Enthusiasm for 
Wagner. Almost marries. Becomes an abbe instead. A vie trifurqu6e. 
Ten thousand pupils. Death. An estimate. 


Social position of composers. Biography as detective story. Admiration 
for Weber. Wagner writes a bloodcurdling libretto. Composes two 
operas. Begins to attract creditors. Marries Minna. Das Liebesverbot 
finishes an opera company. Riga and machinations. Flight by sea. Begin- 
nings of Der fliegende Hollander. Rienzi and success. The Leit- 
motiv. Composes Tannhauser, which is tepidly received. Quarrels with 
Minna. More creditors. Writes the Lohengrin libretto. Toys with 
revolution. Exiled. Fails to conquer Paris. More love affairs. Lohengrin 
fails. The Ring librettos. Wagner leads musical life of Zurich. 


Pamphleteering. Mathilde Wesendonck and the AsyL Enter Cosima 
von Billow. The Ring progresses. Tristan. The Paris Tannhauser 
fiasco. More wanderings. A fairy prince. Revolution in Munich. Wagner 
composes Die Meistersinger. Marries Cosima. Completes the Ring. 
Builds the Festspielhaus* The fast Ring. Parsifal. The Wagner 


Verdi the patriot. Early years. Marriage. First opera a success. Death of 
wife and children. Triumph of Nabucodnosor. Troubles with the 
censors. The Villa San? Agata. Giuseppina Strepponi. Rigoletto. II 
Trovatore. Camille and La Traviata. Failure and fiasco. Verdi 
becomes a war cry. Marries Giuseppina. Enters parliament. St. Peters* 
burg and La Forza del destine. The Khedive wants an opera. Aida. 
The Requiem. Thirteen yeans of silence. Arrigo Bdito. Two Shake- 
spearean masterpieces. Dawn of the twentieth century. 

xvin. JOHANNES BRAHMS , , 469 

"The three B's." Brahms speaks. Childhood in the slums. Potboilers. 
Joseph Joachim. The Schumanns. New Paths. Schumann dies. Brahms 
and Clara. Brahms' psychology. A court musician. The First Piano 
Concerto. Re-creates the variation form. Moves to Vienna. As chamber 
composer. Brahms and romance. Ein deutsches Requiem. Waltzes 
and Hungarian dances. Elisabeth von Herzogenberg. The Franco- 
Prussian War. The "Haydn" Variations. Brahms as lieder composer. 
Four symphonies. Visits Italy. The Violin Concerto. A degree and the 
Akademische Festouverture. A famous beard. Von Billow. Brahms 
meets Tchaikovsky. The "Double" Concerto. The last piano pieces. 


A neurotic child. A petty official. Studies music. The Rubinsteins. 
Moscow. Tchaikovsky writes a symphony. The affaire Desiree Artot. 
The Five. Romeo and Juliet. The First Piano Concerto. Von Billow 
plays in Boston. Bizet vs Wagner. Nadejda von Meek and Antonina 
Miliukova. Tchaikovsky marries. Grim tragedy. Ballets. The Fourth 
Symphony. Eugen Oniegin. Italy. The Violin Concerto. World fame. 
The Fifth Symphony. Pique-Dame. Break with Nadejda. Tchaikovsky 
visits the United States. The Nutcracker. The "Pathetique." Cholera. 


"Musicien frangais." Paris and tradition. Childhood. The Conserva- 
toire. Visits to Moscow. L'Enfant prodigue. Composes songs. The 


Prix de Rome. A Wagnerian. La Damoiselle elue. Russian and 
Javanese music. Green-eyed Gaby. L 5 Apres-midi. The String Quartet. 
The fast Debussyans. Pierre Louys. More songs. First marriage. Noc- 
turnes. "M. Croc he." Maeterlinck, Mary Garden, and Georgette 
Leblanc. The leitmotiv and Pelleas. Second marriage. Piano composi- 
tions. La Mer. Concert tours. Chouchou. Le Martyre de Saint- 
Sebastien. D'Annunzio. Images. Preludes, The World War. 
Etudes. Death. 


Decline of a giant. Prodigious youth. Von Billow. Early works. Don 
Juan. Influence of Wagner. Tod und Verklarung. As conductor and 
discoverer. Egypt and an opera. As lieder composer. Marriage. Till 
Eulenspiegel. Also sprach Zarathustra. A touch of megalomania. 
Don Quixote. A monument to bad taste. Berlin, Nikisch, and 
Wilhelm II. Feuersnot and the critics. What is the Sinfonia Domes- 
tica? Salome. Elektra. Strauss visits the United States. Der Rosen- 
kavalier. Ariadne auf Naxos. Decline and fall. A Na&? A lesson 
from Rossini. 

xxii. JEAN SIBELIUS 574 

False picture of Finland. Ancestry and boyhood. Law and music in 
Helsingfors. Germany and education. En Saga. Marriage. Epic in- 
spiration. The Swan of Tuonela. A government grant. The First 
Symphony and Tchaikovsky. A patriotic gesture. The Second Symphony 
and the Violin Concerto. Moves to Jdrvenp'd'd. The Third Symphony. 
Miscellanea. Pohjola's Daughter. Illness. Voces intimae. The 
controversial Fourth. Sibelius visits the United States. The First World 
War. The Fifth Symphony. Revolution and a siege. Under fire. The 
Sixth Symphony and the Seventh. Sibelius at seventy-four; at eighty. 


Russian composers and academies. Rimksy-Korsakov. Two short orches- 
tral pieces win Diaghilev. L'Oiseau de feu. Petrouchka. Piano 
compositions. Nijinsky and Le Sacre du printemps. A riot in the 
Champs-Ely sees. Neoclassicism. Le Rossignol. Experiments. Les 
Noces and catharsis. Devitalization. Oedipus Rex. Jean Cocteau. 
The Symphonic' de psaumes. A genius of emptiness. Music for 
Ringling Brothers and Billy Rose. The later symphonies. Orpheus and 
an opera in English. The future of music. 

INDEX 613 


Dull-Useful Information 
for Conscientious Readers 

Titles of compositions are given in their original form except 
where common usage forces the English translation. Thus, we 
speak of The Well-Tempered Clavichord, not Das Wohltemperirte 
Clavier; of La Traviata, not The Strayed One. 

The word clavier is used throughout for all immediate ancestors 
of the piano. The authors found that discriminating narrowly be- 
tween clavicembalo, clavichord, clavier, harpsichord, and spinet 
would involve discussions of timbre and mechanism not within 
the scope of this book. 

Chapter I 

There Were Great Men 
Before Bach 

THE fierce, blinding sun of the high Renaissance was beating 
down on papal Rome when Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, 
the greatest of the old composers, was writing Masses for worldly 
and splendor-loving pontiffs. Around him flowed the variegated 
life of sixteenth-century Italy, given its pattern, texture, and color 
by this phenomenal upsurge of human ambition. Everywhere 
artists were celebrating the victory of the senses: sculptors were ex- 
ploring with rediscovered candor the contours of the human body; 
painters were transforming their peasant mistresses into the 
Mother of God; architects were masking the harsh Gothic face of 
the cities with gracious temples and colonnades, and philosophers 
were dreaming of Plato, that prince of pagan poets whom a blas- 
phemous humanist had actually proposed for sainthood. In the 
midst of all these busy sensualists ostensibly re-creating the classic 
past, but in reality creating the modern world, Palestrina was 
patiently putting the finishing touches to the Gothic edifice of 
medieval music. 

By Palestrina' s time music was an exceedingly complicated 
affair. Like every other art, it had developed slowly and painfully 
from meager beginnings. From the ritual grunts of savages it had 
evolved with geologic slowness into an adjunct of the Greek drama. 
Whether, if we knew how to perform it, Greek music would appeal 
to us or not we can never know, for, as a wise English critic has 
said, "All the research in the world will not enable us to under- 
stand the Greek musician's mind." 

From a strictly pragmatic point of view, music blossoms at that 
moment in the fourth century when Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 
decided to regulate the singing for the services in his diocese. The 
Ambrosian chant the first thoroughly recognizable ancestor of 
music as we hear it is the leanest and most solemn adaptation of 
the Greek modes, the ancestors of our modern scales. This somber 
singing can still be heard in certain Milanese churches, but today 
we are more familiar with the elaboration of St. Ambrose's system 



known as the Gregorian chant, which largely superseded the 
older musical service at about the beginning of the seventh cen- 
tury. Some think that St. Gregory, the greatest Pope of the early 
Middle Ages, sponsored, or even devised, the innovation; less 
romantic historians believe that he was too busy with barbarians, 
heretics, and plague to bother with ideas about music. 

For a thousand years the music of the Church was rigidly 
melodic: that is, it attained its ends without the use of harmony as 
we conceive it today. The troubadours and minnesingers accepted 
unquestioningly this purely horizontal tradition of music, and 
lavished their imagination on the melody and words. But neither 
these gay itinerant musicians nor the formulators of primitive 
counterpoint (whoever they were) can be called real composers. 

The Renaissance, which exploited the individual ego, gave birth 
to the composer with a name. Until then men had been content to 
submerge their names in anonymous giving of their talents: the 
musician was as nameless as the altar boy swinging the censer. In 
the Middle Ages music had no separate identity: it was as much an 
accessory of the sacred rite as Greek music was of the drama. 
Definitely, purposely, a part of some greater whole, it was designed 
to recede. It is no coincidence that the first pieces of self-sufficient 
music are (with few exceptions) not anonymous: they were still 
written for the Church, but the composer had begun to think of 
his music as a living thing he had created. 

Considering the exalted and ancient lineage of the other arts, 
it comes as a shock to find that the first composer, in the modern 
sense of the word, was an Englishman who died in 1453. This man, 
John Dunstable, is an almost mythical figure, a sort of English 
Orpheus who was even credited with the invention of counter- 
point a feat obviously beyond the abilities of a single individual. 
Also, for no apparent reason, he has been confused with St. 
Dunstan, an Archbishop of Canterbury who had died more than 
four centuries before. Add that he was even confused with another 
English composer of his time, and was reputedly astrologer and 
mathematician, and this sums up what is known of the man who 
was probably Geoffrey Chaucer's most gifted artistic contem- 
porary. Little of Dunstable's music survives, and he might have 
vanished from history altogether if it had not been for his long 
and fruitful association with Continental musicians of his age, 


whose successors especially the Flemish masters evidently 
studied his methods to great advantage. 

Dunstable's suave and euphonious style tended temporarily to 
soften the harsh contours of the music of the Flemings. But Jean de 
Okeghem reverted to the austerity of earlier Flemish music, while 
vastly increasing its technical resources. Okeghem has been called 
the greatest music teacher of all time, and in his relentless pursuit 
of a new methodology has been likened to the modern experi- 
mentalist, Arnold Schonberg. This is by no means a forced com- 
parison, for the purely esthetic results of their efforts are, in both 
cases, open to question. 

Like many another outstanding theoretician, Okeghem was ful- 
filled in the work of his pupils, the greatest of whom was Josquin 
Des Pres. Coming upon Josquin after mingling with his still 
shadowy predecessors is like emerging suddenly into the light of 
day: he is recognizably a modern man, an erratic genius whose 
checkered career extended well into the sixteenth century. He was 
born in the dawn of a new age, when the Turks swarming into 
Constantinople and Gutenberg devising the printing press helped 
to liberate forces that would destroy the Middle Ages. Josquin 
emerges from the mists as a singer at Milan in 1474. He was then 
about thirty years old, and it seems probable that his sophistica- 
tion was already such that even the excessive splendor of the court 
of the Sforzas could not overawe him. For he was no stranger to 
court life, as he himself testifies: he had studied under Okeghem at 
the royal chapel of Louis XI. As he left the then cheerless city of 
Paris with a whole skin, we may be sure that he did not make the 
sour French monarch the butt of those practical jokes for which he 
later became notorious. 

Within the next decade or so, Josquin made a leisurely progress 
through the burgeoning duchies of northern Italy, where beauty- 
loving and neurasthenic princes welcomed good musicians with the 
extravagant warmth of those lush and expansive times. He finally 
arrived at Rome, which was for two hundred years to be the center 
of the musical world, and became a singer in the papal chapel, 
thus choosing a road to fame that became stereotyped with his 
successors. Perhaps the choristers in the Pope's service lived aloof 
from the dissolute life of Renaissance Rome, but if they came much 
into contact with that grand old rake, Innocent VIII, or his even 


more riotous successor, Alexander VI, they must have witnessed 
some of the most colorful and improper scenes in the history of 
even the Eternal City. Here, despite the obvious distractions of 
Borgian Rome, Josquin worked on his first book of Masses prob- 
ably some of them were sung in the Sistine Chapel with the com- 
poser himself taking part. 

Louis XI had died, Charles VIII had climaxed a humiliating 
career by mortally bumping his head, and that brilliant match- 
maker, Louis XII, was firmly seated on the French throne before 
Josquin wandered back to Paris to seek preferment. At first he had 
to live on glory and promises: his first book of Masses, published in 
1502,* was received with great acclaim, and though Louis XII 
began to hint cheerfully about church benefices, these failed to 
materialize. Josquin was no respecter of the person of the Most 
Christian King, and dared to jog his memory. Being commissioned 
to compose a motet for performance in the King's presence, he 
chose two telling phrases from the Psalm cxix "Let Thy words to 
Thy servant be remembered" and "My portion is not in the land of 
the living" for his contrapuntal embroidery. He received a bene- 

Josquin died in 1521. Later composers, exploiting even further 
the devices he had used and the styles he had vivified, crowded his 
music out of the churches with motets and Masses of their own. 
For almost four hundred years Josquin has been hardly more than 
a name. Yet the most painstaking musicologists, after piecing to- 
gether the pitifully sparse details of his life, round out their labors 
by unanimously acclaiming him a genius. Although rarely per- 
formed, a sufficiently large amount of his music survives for us to 
visualize him three-dimensionally as a composer. He widened the 
scope of musical art unbelievably: he advanced and subtilized the 
technical resources of his predecessors; more important still, he 
discovered that music can be made the vehicle of varying human 
emotions. Even the most baroque of Josquin 5 s works, though full 
of higher-mathematical intricacies, are nevertheless expressive- 
the music of a man who felt deeply and made spacious melodies. 
What sets him above the earlier masters and, indeed, above most 

* Although the first printed music antedates this by a quarter of a century, Jos- 
quin was the earliest composer to have a complete printed volume of his music 


composers is precisely this richly varied expressiveness. His 
music possessed a powerful appeal for his contemporaries., who in- 
variably referred to him as "the wonderful" or "the marvelous" 
Josquin. Luther, a good judge of music, and himself a composer 
of sorts, said, probably of Josquin's less intricate style (for this 
downright reformer had little use for musical monkeyshines), that 
others were mastered by notes while Josquin did what he pleased 
with them. 

Josquin's effect on music was not wholly salutary: his associates 
and followers particularly the Flemings admired him most as a 
superb craftsman, and tended to forget the more purely musical 
excellences of his style. Uncritically digesting his technique, they 
then began at the point beyond which prudence and taste had pre- 
vented Josquin from venturing, and went on to create monstrous 
complexities, at which, finally, the Pope himself began to shudder. 

For almost two hundred years the Holy See had been vaguely 
disturbed by the growing elaborations and often glaring inap- 
propriateness of the music for the services. The complaints were 
numerous: secular tunes and even words were used; different sets of 
words were sung simultaneously, and at times the style was so 
florid that the words, lost in the mazes of ornamentation, were 
completely incomprehensible. Imagine a solemn High Mass sung 
to the tune of Oh! Susanna, with the tenors crooning Kiss Me Again 
and the basses growling Asleep in the Deepl This is the sort of thing 
we might still hear if an affronted and conscientious Pope had not 
moved to reform these evils. 

Reform was in the air. The Council of Trent, originally con- 
vened to checkmate Luther's criticisms by a general house cleaning, 
was reconvened in 1562 by Pius IV, after a recess of ten years. 
Among what they doubtless considered far weightier matters, the 
fathers of the conclave found the degraded state of church music 
worthy of their august consideration. Therefore, with the Pope's 
emphatic approval, two cardinals* were appointed in 1564 to see 
that sacred music was once more made sacred. At first the situa- 
tion seemed so hopeless that there was talk of restricting the 

* One of them was Carlo Borromeo, the greathearted Archbishop of Milan. A 
nephew of Pius IV, he almost justified the institution of papal nepotism by those 
noble deeds that led to his being sainted, twenty-five years after his death in 1584, 
by Paul V. 


musical services to the traditional body ofplainsong. It is possible 
that this deadening remedy had already been seriously considered 
when a man was found who could evolve an idiom both artistically 
mature and ecclesiastically acceptable. 

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the man who saved the art 
of music, was thirty-nine years old at this time. Like the magnifi- 
cent Leonardo, he had taken as his own the name of his native 
village, where he was born in either 1525 or 1526. Palestrina is, 
and doubtless was, a drowsy and picturesque little town nestling 
in the craggy fastnesses of the Sabine Mountains. The composer's 
parents were people of substance in this obscure place, holding 
their land in fee of the powerful Colonna family. It is probable that 
one of the Colonnas took notice of the child, and persuaded his 
parents to let him enter the papal service. At any rate, we know 
that as early as his twelfth year Palestrina was living in Rome, and 
serving as a choirboy in the basilican church of Santa Maria 

After seven years in Rome Palestrina returned to his native town 
with a life appointment as organist and choirmaster of the ca- 
thedral, offices carrying the revenues of a canonry. His fortunes 
were on the upgrade. Three years later, his marriage to a local 
heiress diverted a fat dowry his way. Shortly afterwards, Giovanni 
Maria del Monte, Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina, became Pope as 
Julius III an event of prime importance in the ascending se- 
quence of Palestrina 5 s fortunes. Almost immediately the new Pope 
appointed his organist choirmaster of the Julian Chapel, the 
nursery for future Sistine singers. Palestrina dedicated his first 
book of Masses to the Pope, who responded by giving him a life 
appointment as a singer in the papal chapel, thus enabling him to 
give up his exacting duties at the Julian. 

In March, 1555, Julius III died, and the next month Cardinal 
Cervino was elected to succeed him, assuming the curiously 
archaic name of Marcellus II. Unfortunate in life he had enjoyed 
the papacy but three weeks when he died, probably poisoned he 
was singularly fortunate in his post-mortem fame, for Palestrina's 
greatest Mass was named for him. Giovanni Pietro Caraffa fol- 
lowed the luckless Marcellus, and as Paul IV connected himself 
inextricably with the most exquisite refinements of the Inquisition, 


to which, as a Neapolitan, he was peculiarly fitted to lend his in- 
ventive genius. One of his first acts was to rescind Palestrina's 
"life" appointment in the Sistine: the morbidly devout pontiff 
could not brook the idea of a married man singing in the Vatican. 

Palestrina interpreted his dismissal as a personal slight (though 
two other married members of the choir were let out at the same 
time) 5 and his health suffered. The niggardly pension that Paul 
assigned him could scarcely compensate for his loss of prestige, 
though his injured feelings were somewhat assuaged by his ap- 
pointment to succeed the renowned Di Lasso as musical director of 
St. John Lateran, "of all churches in the world the mother and 
head. 55 However, this position seemed to be better than it actually 
was: the music was not well endowed, and Palestrina was con- 
stantly at loggerheads with his employers, who do not seem to have 
appreciated him. This impossible situation was terminated by his 
resignation in 1560, possibly with the intention of devoting him- 
self exclusively to composing. Sorely disturbed though he was by 
the undignified bickering at the Lateran, he yet composed, in 
the Improperia for the Good Friday service, the work that raised 
him to a pre-eminence that went almost unchallenged until his 

The Improperia brought Palestrina so much acclaim that he was 
besieged simultaneously by requests for more compositions and 
by appeals to re-enter the service of the Church. The compositions 
were forthcoming in profusion, but he hesitated to return to 
masters who had treated him so ambiguously. After eight months 
of unemployment, however, he consented to return to Santa Maria 
Maggiore, to lead the choir in which he had sung as a child. 
Here he remained for six years. 

The fanatical Paul IV died in 1559, and there ascended the 
throne of St. Peter one of the most amiable figures of the late 
Renaissance, Giovanni Angelo de s Medici. This cultured and en- 
lightened philosopher, known as Pius IV, was evidently deeply im- 
pressed by Palestrina's music, for he requested that the Improperia 
be copied into the manuscript books of the Sistine Chapel. It is 
possible that the simplicity and genuine piety of these Good 
Friday pieces led the Pope's commissioners to turn to Palestrina in 
solving the crisis created by the ultimatum of the Council of 


Trent. But it is impossible to verify the old tale that it was the 
Missa Papae Marcelli that won them over. 

This Mass, the most famous piece of Renaissance music, is as 
shrouded in legends and conflicting traditions as the Mono, Lisa. 
Among a welter of data there are many absurdities and few au- 
thenticated facts. The most preposterous story attributes the 
composition to Pope Marcellus I, a thoroughly unmusical gentle- 
man who was martyred early in the fourth century. It seems like- 
lier that Palestrina composed it in 1562, and submitted it to 
Cardinal Borromeo and his associate two years later. Even the 
date and place of the first performance are not known with cer- 
tainty: some say Santa Maria Maggiore heard it first; others 
favor a private audition at the palace of one of the commis- 
sioners, followed by a performance at the Sistine, in the presence 
of the Pope himself, on June 19, 1565. 

We are on firm ground, however, in regard to the ultimate re- 
ception accorded this great masterpiece, for here the question 
refers not to a contradiction in data, but to the inherent grandeur 
of a peak in art comparable to the Sistine frescoes. If Pius IV did 
not really say that the Missa Papae Marcelli was comparable to the 
music heard by St. John the Divine during his vision of the New 
Jerusalem, he should have said it. After all, it is merely a florid 
Renaissance way of saying exactly what critics have been saying 
ever since. But the making of heavenly melodies was not very 
profitable, and Palestrina welcomed the largess of wealthy clerics 
and noblemen. 

In 1565, Palestrina's friend Pius IV died; he was succeeded the 
following year by the cantankerous Inquisitor General, Michele 
Ghislieri, who assumed the name of Pius V. This thoroughly 
morose monk (the last sainted pope) reappointed Palestrina to the 
Julian Chapel in 1571, this time as choirmaster. Meanwhile, the 
composer's creative genius was at flood: Masses, motets, and sacred 
madrigals flowed from his pen unceasingly, and apparently with- 
out effort. Two of the madrigals commemorated the signal vic- 
tory of the allied Venetian, Spanish, and papal navies over the 
Turks at Lepanto. 

Palestrina's sobriety of character must have made him welcome 
in the more serious ecclesiastical circles of the time. His intimacy 
with Filippo Neri, the founder of the Order of Oratorians, dates 


from the year 1571, when the future saint* is said to have invited 
him to conduct the musical services at Neri's own church. These 
services came to be known as oratorios because they were per- 
formed in an oratory: the term "oratorio" was not applied to a 
particular form of music until 1600. Neri, who seems to have been 
free of the more forbidding qualities usually connected with saints, 
became the composer's lifelong friend. 

Despite Palestrina's many friends among the powerful and holy 
of the Renaissance a list of his dedications reads like a sixteenth- 
century Almanack de Gotha his life was cheerless and pinched. His 
wife and two musically promising sons died within a few years of 
each other, and he was left with one rascally boy who not only 
plagued him during his life, but also, as his father's musical exec- 
utor, damaged his musical reputation after his death. His second 
marriage, at the age of fifty-six, could not well have been a ro- 
mantically happy one: he needed money and someone to preside 
over his household. The woman of his choice was a widow in com- 
fortable circumstances, and presumably in need of the same 
human companionship that Palestrina craved. He took over a fur- 
and-hide business she had inherited from her first husband, and 
made a decided go of it, buying much valuable real estate with 
his profits. 

The last seventeen years of Palestrina's life were marked only by 
domestic vicissitudes; officially, through his honored connections 
with the Vatican, he had achieved the utmost distinction the 
Renaissance had to offer a musician. Others might be better re- 
warded, but the fact remained that Palestrina's offices gave him 
the tacit dictatorship of the musical world. Only a technical ques- 
tion of seniority of service kept him from the position of master of 
the papal choir. He issued his works with almost calendar regu- 
larity, though not in the sumptuous format that distinguished the 
publications of certain of his contemporaries who enjoyed the 
patronage of a mere king or duke the Popes were not so munifi- 
cent to their musicians as to their painters and sculptors. 

Palestrina was not one of the most prolific composers: he left 
only ninety-three Masses, five hundred motets, four books of 
madrigals, hymns, and offertories for the whole Church year, three 

* Palestrina numbered at least three saints among his acquaintance Carlo Bor* 
romeo, Pius V, and Filippo Neri. 


books of Magnificats, three of litanies, three of lamentations, and 
two of sacred madrigals a mere trifle compared to the incredible 
output of his well-kept contemporary, Orlando di Lasso. But the 
percentage of excellence is amazingly high: Palestrina seldom fell 
below his own standards, which were uncompromising. Occasion- 
ally a composition written to order did not please the great per- 
sonage for whom it was intended. When the learned builder-Pope, 
Sixtus V, heard the Mass Tu es pastor ovium, he remarked dryly 
that Palestrina seemed to have forgotten the Missa Papae Marcelli. 
But even this hypercritical pontiff was won over by Assumpta est 
Maria, as well he might be, for it is barely, if at all, inferior to the 
Marcellan Mass. 

Sir Donald Tovey has pointed out that Palestrina, like Spinoza, 
was a God-intoxicated man. His secular compositions are negli- 
gible in number, but in his Church music he did not invariably 
follow the letter of the regulations laid down by the Council of 
Trent. He frequently used secular tunes for sacred texts: for in- 
stance, he used the folk melody UHomme arme as the basis for two 
Masses. He set another Mass to the tune of a French love song. 
However, his intense devotional fervor so spiritualized these lay 
melodies that all trace of their vulgar origin was removed. 

Palestrina gave music a new kind of beauty based on an under- 
standing of integral structure. His predecessors, even the greatest 
of them, had been content to solve specific technical problems 
without conceiving them in relation to the total effect. Some of 
them had given beautiful and expressive melody to each voice, 
and had ingeniously carried these single threads through a com- 
plicated labyrinth, producing a rich fabric of sound. But in their 
single-minded pursuit of correct horizontal development of the 
separate voices, they failed to relate them vertically in such a way 
as to produce harmonically beautiful chords. We have no evi- 
dence that the ugly discords of the great Flemings were intentional. 

In the rather barren controversies that rage perennially over the 
comparative worth of various compositions by a single master, and 
which are particularly unprofitable in the case of a composer so 
rarely performed as Palestrina, the vote is always divided. The 
Missa Papae Marcelli is by no means unchallenged in its pre-emi- 
nence: at least three other Masses compete for highest place. 
Assumpta est Maria^ for instance, has been compared (with com- 


plimentary intent) to the Sistine Madonna. But now that the re- 
cording companies and the radio have thrown their enormous 
weight on the side of the Marcellan Mass, it seems destined to hold 
its place in popular estimation as the greatest composition before 
Bach. Nowadays, when the link with Palestrina is becoming ever 
more tenuous, it is increasingly difficult to enjoy him fully without 
the act of faith that is the very essence of the creed he illuminates. 
For Palestrina is, above all else, other worldly, and therefore, to 
the vast majority of our contemporaries, he must necessarily seem 
remote; by the same token, his esthetic is as difficult to enter into 
as that which reared a Buddhist stupa or fashioned a T'ang vase. 
The Missa Papae Marcelli sums up, in a way that only an expert can 
appreciate, but everyone can feel, what was best in the music of 
the time. If you are not conditioned to be moved by its applica- 
bility as part of revealed truth, you can at least savor it as the voice 
of a particular moment in history that frozen, baffling eternity 
known as the Middle Ages. 

In the dedication to Gregory XIII of his fourth book of Masses, 
Palestrina shows a lively sense of his own gifts as a composer. His 
contemporaries already regarded him as one of the fountainheads 
of music. One of them, the Spaniard Victoria, so admired him 
that he not only imitated the Italian master's musical style, but is 
said to have copied his somber clothes and the cut of his beard. 
In 1592, a group of accomplished north-Italian composers pre- 
sented a collection of vesper psalms to Palestrina, with a dedica- 
tion that reflects the reverence in which he was held during the 
last years of his life. Its language is extravagant, and would be 
fulsome if addressed to any lesser personage: "As rivers are natu- 
rally borne to the sea as their common parent and lord, and rest in 
its bosom as the attainment of their own perfection, so all who pro- 
fess the art of music desire to approach thee as the ocean of musical 
knowledge to testify their homage and veneration." 

During his last years, his responsibilities somewhat lightened, 
Palestrina continued, as was his oft-expressed intention, to create 
music for the greater glory of God. Old age did not stem his cre- 
ativeness, and he was preparing his seventh book of Masses for 
publication when he died, on February 2, 1594. His intimate 
friendship with Filippo Neri lends plausibility to a legend that he 
died in the saint's arms. 


Palestrina was buried in the old basilica of St. Peter's, but his 
tomb was moved during the demolition of the church, and no 
longer exists. Records preserve the epitaph, its Latin sonorousness 
aptly saluting the greatness of his achievements: 


With the Missa Papae Marcelli there began the last phase of 
purely vocal contrapuntal development, enriched by later works of 
the Prince of Music himself and his most eminent contemporaries 
Orlando di Lasso and Tom^s Luis de Victoria. Di Lasso worked 
mainly in Germany, and therefore fell little under the influence of 
Palestrina: a native of Flanders, he summed up the accomplish- 
ments of the Flemish school. Victoria, however, spent much time in 
Rome, and consciously modeled his compositions after the great 
Italian's. During the last third of the sixteenth century, when all 
three of these men were prodigally pouring forth a flood of master- 
pieces, they divided the domain of music among them. Although 
they cannot be considered rivals, they offer endless material for 
comparison and contrast. Palestrina was a lyric tone poet of the 
lineage of Raphael and Mozart; Di Lasso was a dramatist in tone, 
related to Michelangelo and Bach; Victoria, finally, was a sort of 
Spanish Palestrina, but endowed with the passion and mystical 
tenderness of his countrymen. 

Of this peerless constellation, Di Lasso had the most eventful 
life. His was the first really big success story in music. Noble 
patrons competed for the honor of employing him: he started out 
as the favorite of a Gonzaga, and ended up at the court of Munich 
in the softest musical berth in Europe. The pomp and glitter of his 
life is rather like Leonardo's. He spent his vacations running 
pleasant diplomatic errands for his powerful patrons. Everything 
conspired to produce for him those ideal circumstances for which 
every composer yearns. 

Orlando was born at Mons, in what is now Belgium, about 1530. 
Even at the age of nine he had progressed so far musically, and had 
so angelic a voice, that he was thrice abducted, the third time by 
agents of Ferdinand Gonzaga, Viceroy of Sicily. His lifelong 
habit of consorting with noblemen was formed early, and after his 


voice broke he spent several years fancying the high society of 
Naples and Rome. 

Orlando's bent was, from the first, secular. Unlike Palestrina, 
who passed his entire life in the papal service, Orlando held only 
one brief church appointment, and that early in his life: the direc- 
tion of the choir at St. John Lateran. He left this post to resume his 
wanderings with a highborn friend, and may even have reached 
England before settling temporarily at Antwerp in 1555. In that 
year he brought out his first two publications, a book of madrigals^ 
mostly on verses by Petrarch, and a collection of madrigals, chan- 
sons, and villanelle, with four motets trailing after. These juvenilia, 
which are characterized by bold chromatic devices, annoyed Dr. 
Charles Burney, the foremost English music critic of the eighteenth 
century, into calling Orlando "a dwarf on stilts" as compared with 

Orlando cannily dedicated his first book of motets to the future 
Cardinal de Granvella, and that rising statesman promptly 
recommended him to the attention of Albert V, Duke of Bavaria. 
It was at the brilliant court of the Wittelsbachs, at Munich, that 
Orlando passed most of his life. At first only a court singer (he had 
to learn German before assuming heavier responsibilities), he al- 
ready drew a larger salary than the Kapellmeister. He married a rich 
Bavarian girl. Within an amazingly short time after his arrival in 
Munich he himself was Kapellmeister and one of the Duke's most 
trusted ambassadors. And in 1570 the Emperor Maximilian II 
ennobled him. 

Orlando's fame soon spread throughout Europe, and he was 
received with great enthusiasm wherever he went. Even though he 
enjoyed incomparable working conditions at Munich, it is difficult 
to understand how he found time to produce the stupendous body, 
of his music. One year he was in Venice finding singers for the 
ducal chapel, another year in Paris hobnobbing with Charles IX, 
himself an amateur musician; another time he journeyed to Fer- 
rara to present Alfonso II with a book of madrigals. The Italian 
ruler received him coldly, and to save the artistic credit of an Este 
the Florentine ambassador intervened in Orlando's behalf. A 
slight to this composer was an international incident. 

An exuberant love of fun endeared Orlando to a Paris ruled 
by Valois and Medici. The judicious Abbe de Brantdme spoke of 


some music he had written at Catherine de' Medici's order as the 
most melodious he had ever heard, while Charles IX's admiration 
became so intense that he offered to engage Orlando as a chamber 
musician at a fabulous salary. He declined the honor, but con- 
tinued on such friendly terms with the royal family that Henri III, 
the last of the Valois, gave him a pension and special privileges for 
publishing his music in France. 

The truth is that Orlando needed no favors from foreign poten- 
tates. His salary at Munich was more than lavish, and the condi- 
tions under which he worked literally have no parallel. His job 
was simple: to write as much as he wished in whatever style he 
chose. The only thing the Duke asked for himself was to be on 
hand when Orlando's works were performed. The many musicians 
who thronged the court of Albert V were at Orlando's beck and 
call: in the realm of music he was as absolute as the Duke was in 
affairs of state. If Orlando wrote a Mass, he could order its im- 
mediate performance in the ducal chapel; if he wrote a madrigal, 
the chances were that it would be sung at a court gathering the 
same evening. Here the ideal circumstances of demand and im- 
mediate performance were realized as they never have been since. 

While fortune kept her fixed smile turned on Orlando, he con- 
tinued to issue Masses, Magnificats, Deutsche Lieder, and chansons 
in bewildering abundance. Albert V died in 1579, and his son, 
Orlando's close friend, succeeded him as William V. Albert's 
lavishness left the treasury depleted, but Orlando did not suffer 
on the contrary, his salary was doubled within the next few years. 
Meanwhile, the Jesuits got at the Duke, and their influence slowly 
seeped into the court, blotting out the old gay life, and making 
William so unpleasant that history has nicknamed him the Pious. 
Orlando, as a clever courtier, must have responded to this re- 
vivalism, and yet in 1581 his villanelle are still overflowing with 
the very essence of comic drama hold, indeed, the germs of 
opera boujfe. The Duke's bigotry seemingly imposed few restrictions 
on Orlando, and more than ever he wrote magnificently, with 
subtlety, expressiveness, freedom, and boundless audacity. 

In 1584, the annual procession of the Sacrament through the 
streets of Munich on Corpus Christi was threatened by a thunder- 
storm. For some moments the whole incident reads like a fine 
page from South Wind it seemed that the ceremony would have to 


be held indoors. The Sacrament was carried to the porch of the 
Peterskirche, and the choir began to intone Orlando's motet 
Gustate et videte. Suddenly the storm abated, the sun shone brightly. 
On the theory that this meteorological miracle had been brought 
aboul by the music, this same motet was thereafter sung during 
outdoor processions as a deterrent to storms. 

The last decade of Orlando's life was marked by a growing 
sobriety of attitude. His fifth took of madrigals, published in 1585, 
revealed this change. Like some of his earlier efforts in this genre, 
they were settings of Petrardi, but the overdone chromaticism of 
the early pages now gave wa.y to a purer diatonic style. It was as 
though he was censuring himself for his youthful extravagances, 
and subjecting his gifts to more rigorous discipline. But the 
strength of strength's prodigy began to fail, and 1586 passed 
ominously without a publication. The Duke noticed Orlando's 
failing health, and presented him with a country house to which 
he might retire from the strenuous ritual of court life. 

Baseless fears for the future of his family were sapping the com- 
poser's vitality. His mind became increasingly disturbed he 
seems to have suffered attacks of real insanity. At times, he refused 
to speak to anyone, and was unable to recognize his wife. The 
court physician treated him, and temporary recovery followed. 
But he brooded constantly on death, and spoke so bitterly that the 
patient Duke became enraged, and was calmed only by the inter- 
cession of Orlando's faithful wife. His blackest humors passed as 
unreasonably as they had come, and he was able for a time in 1594 
to resume his duties at court. 

On May 24, Orlando dedicated his Lagrime di San Pietro to 
Clement VIII. It was his swan, song, and before its publication he 
died, on June 14, 1594, little more than five months after his peer 

Orlando is one of the most difficult composers to analyze: not 
only did he write almost two thousand works, but he wrote them 
in a bewildering multiplicity of styles. If he were performed as 
often as Wagner, it would take many months of ceaseless listening 
merely to hear all of him; as it is, he is performed even less than 
Palestrina. His works range from ribald, actually bawdy chansons 
(which blushing editors permit us to see only in bowdlerized 
versions) to some of the most sublime devotional music ever 


written. Between these extremes are pieces expressing every subtle 
shade of emotion. The large number of compositions that lie at the 
opposite poles of this gamut suggests a manic-depressive per- 
sonality at work, and there are passages in Orlando's life itself 
that give color to this hypothesis. It remains unexplained why this 
exuberant wisecracker and punster, whose letters to Duke Albert 
are full of excessive high spirits, ended his life of unrelieved good 
fortune as a near-insane melancholic. Needless to say, this emo- 
tional seesawing does not detract from the greatness of his music. 
In surveying the vast and elevated domain carved out by 
Orlando's genius,, critics have espied few of those isolated peaks 
that crown the Palestrinian landscape. The altitude is consistently 
very high, but the slopes are gentle; there is no Missa Papae Mar- 
cellij no Assumpta est Maria. There is, nevertheless, general agree- 
ment that Orlando's setting of the seven penitential psalms is his 
greatest single work. In the musical language of God-directed con- 
trition and sorrow, Orlando has .never been excelled by anyone, 
has been equaled, perhaps, only by the Bach of the St. Matthew 
Passion. In these poignant lamentations, all earthiness and ribaldry 
have been burned out by searing emotion, and what remains is the 
very distillation of sublimity. 

Tomas Luis de Victoria is the third of this great trio of six- 
teenth-century religious composers. He was born at Avila, prob- 
ably about 1540. As the birthplace of St Teresa she may have 
known Victoria personally, for she mentions his brother Agustm in 
one of her books Avila calls to mind the inextricable mingling of 
music and religiosity in late Renaissance Spain. Mystical and 
ascetic, sensual .and ecstatic, St. Teresa fills a unique niche in 
hagiology, and resembles closely but two other figures in history; 
El Greco and Victoria. The latter, though influenced by Pales- 
trina, never lost the dark^ intensely Spanish quality that some find 
repellent, others magnificent. The mixture of spiritual ecstasy 
and lasciviousness in his compositions has often reduced the sacred- 
music experts to a -state of silent embarrassment. Critics have been 
similarly tongue-tied before certain of El Greco's canvases. 

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Victoria never had to free 
himself from the bonds of Flemish pedantry, with its endless 
elaborations and frequently empty scrollwork: from the beginning 


he used a simple and expressive style. It had flowered first in 
Palestrina's motets,, but Victoria molded it into something- en- 
tirely new. His motets,, though less' gracious and less, contrapuntally 
clever than Palestrina's, overflow with warmth, masculine tender- 
ness, and mystical ardor, 

Victoria was a priest. He, rather than Palestrina, was the 
paragon sought by the reforming fathers, of the Council of Trent: 
he never composed a secular piece or used a secular theme. He 
inscribed a book of motets and psalms not to a Irving' patron, but 
"to the Mother of God and to All the Saints." In dedicating a 
book of Masses to Philip II of Spain, he said that he had been led 
by instinct and impulse to devote himself exclusively to church 
music. At the same time, he bade farewell to composing, saying 
that, he was determined to resign himself to the contemplation of 
divine things, as befitted a priest* He made this vow in 1583, but 
the urge to create was. too strong, and before he died,, almost thirty 
years later, he had published many other volumes. 

Victoria was happy in his patrons,, whose generosity enabled 
him to issue his compositions in sumptuous folios that quite out- 
shone the publications of his contemporaries. His severely devout 
nature recommended him to Philip II,. who in 1565 sent him to 
Rome to continue his musical studies. Here he became a chaplain- 
singer, and eventually choirmaster, at the Collegium Germani- 
cum, Loyola's bulwark against Lutheranism. He worked at the 
Collegium, for more than a decade, leaving in 1578 to become 
chaplain to Philip*s sister Maria, widow of the Emperor Maxi- 
milian II. 

Victoria's relations with the Empress were close. He remained 
in her service until her death in 1603, and the liberal pension she 
left him in her will evidences her esteem. A profoundly devout 
woman, she took up her residence in Madrid at the convent of the 
Franciscan nuns known as Descalzas Reales, and Victoria's duties 
included leading its choir. The E-mpress* daughter Margaret joined 
this barefoot order in 1584, and it was to this princess that he 
dedicated a great Offieiim defunctorum, written for the funeral of 
her mother. He survived the Empress but eight years, during 
which he was chaplain to the Archduchess Margaret, and died on 
August 27, 1611. 

In forming our judgment of Victoria, we are not embarrassed 


by the overwhelming output of an Orlando. The Spaniard was 
not a prolific composer: he left less than two hundred separate 
compositions. The most striking characteristic of his music is its 
hint of Moorish influence: it sometimes uses those harmonic and 
rhythmic devices which, however metamorphosed and cheapened, 
are to this day the unmistakable hallmark of Spanish music. Vic- 
toria, even in his imitation of Pales trina, retained his special native 
quality: his Spanishness is as obvious as that of Albeniz or Falla, 
though it is asserted less blatantly. 

No less Spanish is Victoria's pervasive mysticism., which occa- 
sionally borders on hysteria. He was very sure of his mission. In the 
dedication of the Canticae beatae Virginis, one of his most ecstatic 
outpourings, he declared that his aim was to compose music solely 
as a means for raising men's minds by pleasant stages to the con- 
templation of divine truth. No music would be more likely to ac- 
complish such a purpose than Victoria's, though cynical ears may 
hear in it sounds more descriptive of Mohammed's paradise of 
houris than of a seemly Christian heaven. 

The death of Tomas de Victoria in 1611 brought to a close the 
great age of unaccompanied vocal polyphony. Music had gone 
far since that almost mythical past when St. Ambrose devised his 
chants, but even in its complex development it had kept to sub- 
stantially the same road. The great musical trinity who lifted their 
art to equality with painting and sculpture, and added to the 
splendor of the dying Renaissance, were better composers than 
Okeghem and Josquin. They handled richer materials with more 
freedom, with more sweep and emotional depth, than the old 
Flemish masters. With all their multifarious gifts, they had summed 
up twelve hundred years of technical progress, and had set up 
enduring monuments to the past. The sound of their own mighty 
cadences, as well as their very position in history as the inheritors 
and fulfillers of the great tradition of ecclesiastical music, deafened 
them to the feeble murmurs of the new music coming to life around 
them. The first opera a puny infant was performed while two 
of them were still alive. 

Palestrina, Orlando, and Victoria closed a period with such 
finality that no further development in unaccompanied vocal 
polyphony was possible. Their own followers, obscure men all, 


were feeble, ineffectual, and anticlimactic. Music, to develop 
further, needed innovators, experimentalists with motivations and 
compulsions different from those which had unleashed the creative 
drive of the great vocal contrapuntalists. It took a hundred years 
of experimentation with new forms and new techniques to pro- 
duce, in Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, men 
comparable in stature to the master polyphonists of the sixteenth 

Chapter II 

Johann Sebastian Bach 

(Eisenach, March 21, i685~July 28, 1750,, Leipzig) 

ONE of the most dangerous of pastimes is nominating a man for 
first place among the musical immortals. For this supreme 
honor there are rarely more than three candidates, and the war 
between their adherents wages perpetually in the living rooms of 
the land. Like three eternally recurring cards in the musical deck, 
Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart are dealt out with a monotonous 
regularity that enrages a Handel or Wagner cultist. However, 
there can be no doubt that a vote taken today would favor Johann 
Sebastian Bach for first or, just possibly, second place. 

The growth of Bach's fame is in itself a story of absorbing in- 
terest. All but forgotten for almost a century after his death, he was 
discovered by a coterie of nineteenth-century musicians much as 
classical antiquity had been discovered by the scholars of the 
Renaissance. Mozart and Beethoven had both drunk deep at the 
inexhaustible well of Bach's technique, but it remained for Men- 
delssohn and Schumann to preach the greater Bach. They saw 
him not merely as a magnificent textbook, but also as the creator 
of manifold and incomparable beauty. From Germany the good 
tidings spread to England, and then rapidly throughout the rest of 
the Protestant world. Bach, as pre-eminently the glory of Protes- 
tant music as Pales trina is of Roman Catholic, had to wait longer 
for recognition in Latin countries. 

What had begun as the jealous enthusiasm of a group came to 
delight the entire confraternity of musicians throughout the 
civilized world. In 1850 the Bach Gesellschaft, a society to publish 
the complete corpus of Bach's surviving works (few of which were 
published during his lifetime), was founded, with twenty-three 
royal patrons, and subscribers from a dozen countries, including 
the United States. This stupendous undertaking required forty- 
nine years for its completion, and was carried out under several 
editors of varying competence. Brahms said that the two greatest 
events of his lifetime were the founding of the German Empire and 
the completion of the Bach Gesellschaft's publications. With nu- 

BACH 23 

merous other partial editions of Back's output,, the Gesellschaft 
served to disseminate his compositions so effectively that today the 
sun never sets upon his empire. 

All this tremendous to-do would have nonplussed the indus- 
trious old town musician whose mortal greatness culminated when 
a king deigned to give him a theme for improvisation. For Johann 
Sebastian Bach never once fancied himself as anything so unlikely 
as the greatest composer in the world. He was merely carrying on 
the family trade (seven generations of Bachs had already included 
more than fifty cantors, organists, and town musicians), and doing 
his job as well as he knew how. What differentiated him from 
Uncle Christoph or Cousin Johann Valentin was simply that he 
happened to be the greatest musical genius the world has ever 

There is no evidence to prove that the far-flung Bach dan 
realized that Johann Sebastian was much better than they were: 
even his son Karl Philipp Emanuel dismissed him as c 'musical 
director to several courts and in the end cantor at Leipzig 55 in 
short, a common, garden variety of Bach. It must be realized, 
however, that this was in itself high praise^ for the Bachs were the 
most renowned musical family in Germany, having cornered the 
musical market in at least half a dozen towns. One branch of this 
prolific family settled at Erfurt^ near Leipzig, and so identified 
themselves with the musical life of the town that many years after 
the last of them had departed, "Bach 55 remained a synonym for 
any musician plying his trade there. 

The great Johann Sebastian was born on March 2r, 1685, at 
Eisenach, the capital of the tiny duchy of Saxe-Eisenach. The 
associations of the town were such that it was as if fate itself 
had had a hand in choosing his birthplace. For here,, in the four- 
hundred-year-old Wartburg a which dominated the town from its 
lofty eminence,. Luther had made his epochal translation of the 
Bible into German, and had lightened the long hours by singing 
the, simple,, rugged hymns that he loved. Here he had come from 
the Diet of Worms, for which he had written Ein feste Burg ist 
unser Gatt, that battle hymn of militant Protestantism which Heine 
called the "Marseillaise of the Reformation, 53 and which Bach was 
to know well and to use as the theme of one of the best loved of his 
cantatas. But Eisenach boasted an even more venerable tradition, 


for in the Wartburg, then the seat of boisterous Thuringian land- 
graves, had taken place in 1207 that memorable contest of minne- 
singers which Wagner immortalized in Tannhduser. 

Johann Sebastian's father, Johann Ambrosius, one of the Erfurt 
Bachs, had come to Eisenach as town musician in 16713 succeeding 
another member of his ubiquitous tribe in that post. Their clan- 
nishness is typified by the fact that Johann Ambrosius twice mar- 
ried women already related to him by marriage. Johann Sebastian 
was the eighth and last child of the first marriage. Of the amazing, 
almost miraculous precocity that gives the story of Mozart's early 
childhood an air of legend. Bach showed no trace during his boy- 
hood in Eisenach. We know that he entered the local Gymnasium^ 
where he was by no means a star pupil; we assume, but do not 
know, that he received his first clavier lessons from his father. 

In 1695, shortly after both his parents died, Bach was sent to the 
little village of Ohrdruf, in the depths of the Thuringian Forest. 
Here life was even quieter than at Eisenach, and from his organ 
bench at the Lutheran Michaeliskirche one of Bach's elder brothers 
presided over the musical destinies of the pious burghers. In this 
remote hamlet there was no call for the secular music that Johann 
Ambrosius had practiced at Eisenach. The school where Bach 
completed his formal education was known for its theological bias 
and grave atmosphere; though no pains were spared to ground its 
pupils in the humanities, Ohrdruf 9 s was primarily a stern school of 
character. Its lessons had a profound, lifelong effect on Johann 
Sebastian: the lad who had nodded over his catechism at Eisenach 
now took to his heart the simple trusting faith that was to flower in 
the greatest devotional music the world has ever heard. 

Johann Sebastian continued his clavier lessons with his brother, 
and what had an even more important effect on his life and his 
art began to play the organ. This "king of instruments," though 
used in Christian churches as early as the fifth century, developed a 
literature comparatively late, and only came into its own during 
the seventeenth century. No interpretive art boasts a more majestic 
and continuous tradition than German organ playing. It flowers 
with Reinken and Buxtehude, whom Bach heard and revered, and 
runs unbroken through Bach and Handel down to Albert Schweitzer, 
humanitarian, doctor, theologian, and Bach scholar. The Germans 
were so devoted to the organ that many forms of music developing 

BACH 25 

in Italy and France during the seventeenth century gained little 
headway in Germany. 

Clavier music in seventeenth-century Germany developed only 
less rapidly than organ music. Essentially Latin in its origins, it 
was until late a secondary interest that consumed the lighter in- 
spirations of the great German masters of organ composition. 
Johann Sebastian's brother owned a collection of clavier works by 
his teacher, Johann Pachelbel, Bohm, Buxtehude, and others. For 
some unknown reason, the use of these pieces was refused the boy, 
who thereupon secretly took them from the music cabinet, and 
copied them out on moonlit nights. This six-month task was the be- 
ginning of his lifelong custom of transcribing music that he wished 
to study. When the vast amount of music Bach copied is added to 
the noting down of his own compositions, it is little wonder that he 
eventually became blind. 

In 1700, when Bach was fifteen years old, and his brother no 
longer found it convenient to house him, it happened that Lxine- 
burg, more than two hundred miles away, was in need of a good 
soprano. The lad, whose sweet treble had already secured him a 
paid job in the Ohrdruf choir, made the long journey, and was 
promptly accepted as choirboy at the Michaeliskirche. The three 
years he spent in Liineburg broadened his musical horizon im- 
measurably, though the most vitalizing contacts were outside the 
town itself. His own church was pedestrian in its services, but at the 
near-by Katharinenkirche the eminent Georg Bohm sat at the 
organ console. Already Johann Sebastian had copied some of this 
man's work, and now there is little doubt that he came to know 
him personally. It was probably at Bohm's suggestion that Bach 
once trudged the thirty miles to Hamburg to hear the venerable 
Johann Adam Reinken, a master of florid organ effects whose in- 
fluence is strong in some of Bach's early works. 

Now, too, Bach was exposed to other than purely German in- 
fluences. In the notable music library of the Michaeliskirche he 
suddenly came upon a new world of musical delight. The for- 
eigners Orlando, Monteverdi, Carissimi, and many others '. 
brought him news of a more urbane civilization than the one he 
knew. And at near-by Celle, an imitation Versailles whose Franco- 
phile duke ate his German food to the accompaniment of elegant 


French music played by French musicians. Bach caught the dim 
reflection of a brilliant culture, beside which Eisenach, Ohrdruf, 
and LiinebuTg were uncommonly, Teutonically stodgy. During his 
many visits to the ducal Sckloss he may sometimes have taken his 
place at the clavier. At all events, the French music he heard there, 
including both orchestral suites and the tinkling clavier suites of 
Couperin le grand, profoundly influenced him. Not only did he 
delight in this suave and polished Latin idiom, but his own Italian 
Concerto, French Suites, and other curiously un-German pieces 
show that he understood it. 

But Luneburg, despite its many extraneous attractions, did not 
offer the opportunities Bach desired for bettering himself finan- 
cially and professionally. In 1702, when he was only seventeen, he 
was actually .elected organist at a ndghboring town, but its over- 
lord imposed his own candidate on the electors. A job in the pri- 
vate band of the reigning Duke of Saxe-Weimar's younger brother 
was in itself a makeshift, though it brought him into contact with 
one of the most interesting minor figures in the musical life of the 
times. This was his master's younger son, Johann Ernst, a pre- 
cocious talent whose violin concertos were so beautiful and so pro- 
fessionally made that three of them later adapted by Bach for 
clavier were attributed to Antonio Vivaldi, the Paganini of the 
eighteenth century. 

While still employed at Weimar, Bach made the first of those 
journeys to inspect an organ that occur with increasing frequency 
throughout the rest of his life. Although he was but eighteen years 
old, Ms fame as an organist had reached the ears of the good men 
of Arnstadt, and after he had tried out the instrument they promptly 
offered him a position. 

Bach's new duties were not unusually onerous, but included one 
he always resented: training the choristers. He did not suffer tribu- 
lations silently: he was a vocal and irascible man even at the age 
of twenty. Growing dissatisfaction with his singers precipitated an 
incident that does much to correct the widespread false picture of 
Bach as a gentle old hymn-singing fogy entirely surrounded by 
childrm. He had reached such a stage of exasperation with his 
charges that they began to resent his attitude. One night, as he 
was retaining home from the Residenzschloss, he was attacked by 

BACH 27 

several of them. One, hurling a pungent epithet at him, began to 
belabor him with a stick,, but the young organist defended himself 
so ably with, his sword that the ruffians, retired discomfited. The 
fracas came to the notice of the town authorities, and Bach was 
called to account for his unconventional behavior. Nothing came 
of the incident, but he was now embarked on his long career of 
alternately explaining his doings to, and defying, stiff-necked 

These controversies were the trivia of a musical life that at Arn- 
stadt began to find its own direction. It is not known where or 
when Johann Sebastian wrote down his first compositions., but 
certain it is that the first typical fruits of his genius belong to his 
stay at Arnstadt. These compositions bespeak a learner, not on-e 
who has mastered his craft. The scoring of his first cantata, for 
instance, is overheavy and highfahitin. One of these Amstadt 
pieces, though slight musically, deserves mention as Bach*s only 
essay in out-and-out program music. A clavier Capnccw on the De- 
parture of His Beloved Brother, it summons up the apprehensions and 
regrets of farewell, and imitates vividly the hurly-burly of the 

Again, as at Liineburg, Bach found the most enduring inspira- 
tion away from the scene of his official duties. In October, 1705, 
his employers granted him a month's leave of absence so that he 
could go to hear the most famous organist of the day, Dietrich 
Buxtehude. Installing his cousin as deputy organist, he set out on 
the three-hundred-mile journey to the old Hanseatic port of Lii- 
beck.. So widespread was the fame of Buxtehude's Abendmusiken, or 
evening church concerts, that it threatened the supremacy of Hamr 
burg in the north-German musical world. Bach was so held in the 
magical thrall of Buxtehude's dazzling technical display that when 
he finally tore himself away, three months had passed. 

Back among the staid Arnstadters,, their- organist exhibited the 
effects of his hegira with stupefying eloquence. Their beloved 
organ, which had been wont to give forth only the most conven- 
tional sounds, now emitted such audacities, such swirling and un- 
churchly arabesques, that they were struck dumb., Bach had an- 
nexed many of Buxtehude's extravagances,, and had outstripped 
him in improvisation. These modernisms might have served him 


well in a more sophisticated musical center, but in Arnstadt they 
bordered on heresy. Once again he was haled before the authori- 
ties, and the accumulated grievances burst out in a relentless cate- 
chism. Why had he outstayed his leave? Why was he so stubbornly 
neglecting his choirmasterly duties? Why did he introduce mon- 
strosities into the simple Lutheran tunes? Why, finally, had he had 
a "strange maiden" in the organ loft? Bach's answer to the first 
three questions was after some hemming and hawing to termi- 
nate his now thoroughly unpleasant connection with the Michael- 

Bach next went to Miihlhausen, another little center of Thu- 
ringian life, where he had secured the post of organist at the Blasius- 
kirche. Although his stipend here was no larger than in Arnstadt, 
he regarded this change as a promotion, for his predecessor had 
been a man of some distinction. And now a timely legacy enabled 
him to marry the "strange maiden." She was his cousin, Maria 
Barbara Bach, and they were married on October 17, 1707, re- 
maining in Miihlhausen less than eight months after their mar- 
riage. To this period, however, belongs the only cantata Bach 
composed that was published during his lifetime: Gott ist mein 
Kbnig. Doing his duty by his new congregation was fraught with 
difficulties, but this time Bach's role was that of the innocent by- 
stander. The little town was in the grips of a feud between the 
orthodox Lutherans and a kill-joy sect known as Pietists. Much of 
the squabbling centered on the church music: the orthodox wanted 
it just as it was, and the Pietists did not want it at all. Bach was 
caught between them, and had practically reached his wit's end 
when an opportunity occurred to return to Weimar. The Miihl- 
hausen authorities accepted his resignation only on condition that 
he continue to supervise the enlargement of the organ he had him- 
self requested. 

As they rush from the railway station to the houses of Goethe 
and Schiller, and perhaps remember to visit the scenes of Liszt's 
declining years, visitors to Weimar are likely to forget Bach's 
fruitful years there. Weimar itself has forgotten Bach not even 
one of those ubiquitous bronze plaques marks his possible dwelling. 
Yet it was at Weimar that he reached his zenith as a composer for 
the organ; here, too, he produced the brilliant "Vivaldi" Con- 
certos and many cantatas, some of them only a shade less masterly 

BACH 29 

than those of his last period. Finally, Weimar saw the birth of two 
of his three famous sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Karl Philipp 

Bach's position at Weimar was that of court organist and cham- 
ber musician to the reigning Duke, Wilhelm Ernst, brother to the 
now deceased prince who had first invited Bach there. His new 
employer was a petty tyrant whose tolerance barely extended be- 
yond his own person. A childless, dour man, he had a lively sense 
of his duty to keep the lower classes in their place, and his actions 
suggest that to him anyone not in the Almanack de Gotha belonged 
among them. For his own pleasure he supported a court orchestra, 
where Bach alternated between the clavier and the violin, but his 
public emphasis was all on church music. Bach, therefore, was 
largely employed in the court chapel, an overdone baroque crea- 
tion whose theatricality was by no means as foreign to the florid, 
ill-considered virtuosity of his earlier toccatas as some Bach experts 
would lead us to believe. Pompously peruked and accoutered in 
the regular livery of the Duke's servants, Bach sat at the organ 
every Sunday outdoing Buxtehude, while the gloomy prince and 
his respectfully morose court looked on from the loges. 

Nothing that we know about Wilhelm Ernst can convince us 
that he was able to distinguish between the compositions of Bach 
and those of any other musician. He had hired the best organist 
available, and that, according to the convention of the times, 
meant someone who would compose, improvise, and adapt the 
music he played. The Duke was scarcely the man to appreciate 
that his ears were hearing the toccata transformed from the collec- 
tion of magnificent fragments that had satisfied Buxtehude into a 
perfectly molded whole, in which brilliant cascades of sound were 
built into a vast architectural form. Buxtehude left the toccata a 
showpiece; Bach made it into a perfect vehicle for exalted musical 
ideas. Such a composition as the massive D minor Toccata and 
Fugue would in itself have made a deathless reputation for a lesser 
composer, but in Bach's case it is only one of many peerless works. 
His treatment of the toccata illustrates, at a comparatively early 
stage of his career, his phenomenal capacity for saying the last 
word in the musical genres he used. 

It has been said that Bach invented no musical form. This is true 
only if invented is interpreted literally, for he borrowed nothing that 


he did not transmute beyond recognition. To take the most striking 
case, who would credit the invention of what he himself called the 
passacaglia to anyone but Bach? True, Girolamo Frescobaldi and 
Buxtehude had composed fine passacaglias. Bach used the form 
only once, but in this Passacaglia in C minor he is as different from 
them ,as they are from the nameless Juan Diego who invented the 
Spanish folk rhythm they borrowed. This grave and measured 
dance, :certainly one of the most superbly conceived creations in 
all music, affords the unique example of a composer using a form 
once, exploiting its utmost possibilities, and then abandoning it. 

It is always a shock to turn from Bach's lofty creations to a con- 
sideration of the humdrum details of his everyday life. Weimar 
jaOTst have been an uncongenial place for a man of his touchy dis- 
position. The Duke treated him as a servant, and even failed to 
appoint him Ho/kapellmeister when the post fell vacant; his neigh- 
bors treated him just as they would the cobbler or the apothecary. 
And why not? No one observing Bach in the bosom of his family, 
laboring over his manuscripts, or trudging to the Schloss would 
have had the slightest reason to -suspect this bumbling fellow, with 
his short neck, protruding jaw, slanting forehead, and almost com- 
ically misshapen nose, of being even a cut above the other five 
thousand folk in Weimar. He loved his wife, was well started on 
his extraordinary career as a father (he begat a grand total of 
twenty children), and never liad to scrimp too much. In an age 
when fagade counted for much, Bach was neither handsome nor 
clever nor highborn nor rich and the good people of Weimar 
were not music critics. 

While it is difficult to interpret Bach's motives from the docu- 
mentary evidence, it is clear that after five years in Weimar he 
was prepared to consider bids from other quarters. Now the Lieb- 
frauenkirche at Halle invited him to succeed Handel's teacher as 
its organist. After some complicated negotiations, he finally turned 
down the offer because the salary was less than he was already 
receiving at Weimar. Further, the .Duke disliked anyone leaving 
his service, and chose this particular moment to make him Konzert- 
meister and raise his pay. The authorities at Halle, resorting to the 
time-honored reasoning of post hoc, propter hoc^ accused Bach of 
temporizing with them to force the Duke's hand. He answered this 

BACH 31 

probably unjustified charge in a letter that was bath temperate and 
dignified, saying in part: 

"To insinuate that I played a trick upon your worshipful Col- 
legium in order to compel my gracious- master to increase my 
stipend here is unwarranted; he has always been, so> well-disposed 
to me and my art that, certes, I have no need to use Halle to in- 
fluence him. I am distressed that our negotiations: have not reached 
a satisfactory conclusion, but I would ask whether, even if Halk 
offered me an emolument equivalent to ray stipend here, I could 
be expected to leave my present situation, for the new one. 5 * 

Bach's position placed him under obligation to compose cc one 
new piece monthly," and so brought his attention back to the 
cantata form he had already tried with indifferent success at Arn- 
stadt and Muhlhausen. Now he collaborated with another mem- 
ber of the ducal household, Salomo Franck,. a numismatist with a 
flair for letters, in the production of no fewer than thirty sacred 
cantatas in three years a pious Gilbert-and-SulEvan partnership 
that was crowned with great success. The Duke unloosed his puise 
strings to provide paper (then a luxury) for these works. Although 
none of them is as impressive as the best cantatas of Baches last 
period, almost all contain fine single numbers, and at least one 
achieves an internal unity that places it high among his smaller 
compositions. This the popular Gottes ^eit ist atterbeste %eit is 
thoroughly German in its directness and simplicity. It follows the 
text with great sensitivity, and the statement is so personal that 
some experts think that Bach also wrote the words. Gottes ei?s 
tragic and poignant utterance has evoked any number of fantastic 
interpretations: Rutland Boughton, composer of the perennially 
popular English opera, The Immortal Hour, believes that it repre- 
sents the funeral of Christianity! 

The Duke of Saxe- Weimar's 1 dynastic plans now began to influ- 
ence the course of Bach's life. He had no children,, and his heir 
presumptive was unmarried. In 1714, taking Bach along, he paid 
a ceremonial visit to the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, in search of a 
wife for this nephew. Matrimonially, the visit was a. fizzle, but it 
gave Bach an opportunity to play before the music-loving' Land- 
grave and his son Frederick, the future King of Sweden. Bach's 
performance on this occasion was so brilliant that, in the words of 
one of the audience, "His: feet, flying over the pedals as though 


they were winged, made the notes reverberate like thunder in a 
storm, till the Prince Frederick, cum stupore admiratus^ pulled a ring 
from his finger, and presented it to the player. Now bethink you, 
if Bach's skilful feet deserved such a bounty, what gift must the 
prince have offered to reward his hands as well?" 

Two years later, Wilhelm Ernst made another ceremonial visit, 
this time to Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. The occasion was 
a great hunting party arranged in honor of Christian's thirty-fifth 
birthday, and his cousin of Weimar commissioned his Konzert- 
meister to compose an appropriately jolly piece. The result was 
Bach's first secular cantata, Was mir behagt, an allegorical and 
mythological work which produced such an effect that Christian 
had it performed again thirteen years later when he made Bach 
his honorary Kapellmeister. If such Olympian celebrities as Diana 
and Pan seem out of place in Bach, it will be recalled that he had 
been studying contemporary French and Italian works that made 
abundant use of mythological machinery. 

The same year Bach returned to Halle to inspect and perform 
on the new organ at the Liebfrauenkirche. The rancor of the Col- 
legium was entirely dissipated, and Bach was regaled at a Teu- 
tonic feast of epic proportions: "Eggs boiled in brine, cold meats, 
ox tongues, and saveloys,- washed down with Rhenish and Fran- 
conian wine and beer." During his six-day visit, coachmen and a 
staff of servants were at his constant disposal. Clearly, Bach's dig- 
nified estimate of himself as a personage had led the Halle au- 
thorities to treat him as one. 

Bach's reputation as an organist was growing apace. The staging 
of a contest between him and Louis Marchand, organist to Louis 
XV, began to be discussed. As Handel's interests lay almost ex- 
clusively in England, this would have brought together the two 
most noted Continental organists of the day. Marchand's part in 
the business seems to have been confined to a great deal of pre- 
liminary boasting, but when Bach arrived in Dresden, where the 
bout was to take place, and Marchand accidentally heard him im- 
provising, his assuredness collapsed, and he fled from town by the 
first post chaise. Commenting on this ignominous retreat, Dr. Bur- 
ney wrote, "It was an honor to Pompey that he was conquered by 
Caesar, and to Marchand to be only vanquished by Bach." 

This bloodless conquest took place during a crisis in Bach's life. 

BACH 33 

It had all begun when Wilhelm Ernst finally persuaded a respect- 
able and well-dowered widow to marry his heir, Ernst Augustus. 
This lady's brother. Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, a gifted 
musical amateur, met Bach at his new brother-in-law's palace, and 
was so impressed by his genius that he forthwith offered him the 
position of Kapellmeister at Co then. Several considerations prompted 
Bach to entertain the offer. As a member of the ducal household 
he was hedged in by a thousand irritating restrictions, not the 
least of which forbade him to visit the heir presumptive and his 
wife, with whom the Duke was constantly quarreling. In defiance 
of this ukase, Bach's friendship with Ernst Augustus and his con- 
sort continued on so intimate a footing that the Duke became sus- 
picious. Any chance of closing the rift between Bach and his em- 
ployer was precluded when the Duke passed over Bach's head in 
appointing a new Kapellmeister, the highest musical honor in his 
gift. Smarting from this indignity, Bach proceeded to his triumph 
at Dresden, and came back with his mind made up. He informed 
Prince Leopold of his willingness to leave Weimar, and the deal 
was closed in August, 1717. 

When Bach applied for his release, the Duke was furious. In- 
nately opposed to change as something inherently wrong, he saw 
in the threatened departure of one of his best musicians a deter- 
mination on his heir's part to interrupt the smooth tenor of his 
life. He refused. Bach insisted, and on November 6 the Duke placed 
him under arrest. During his incarceration, which lasted almost a 
month, Bach seems to have imitated the examples of Cervantes, 
Bunyan, and other geniuses who suffered imprisonment, by con- 
tinuing to work at his art. The one thing he did not do was change 
his mind. Torture being out of fashion, the Duke had to give in, 
and on December 2 he granted this stubborn servant permission 
to go elsewhere. On that date Bach's official career as an organist 
came to an end. Little more than a week later, he was settled at 

The move was a drastic one. From a worldly point of view, it 
meant promotion, more prestige, and more pay. Bach had always 
coveted the title of Kapellmeister, and for some years had needed an 
income more nearly commensurate with the demands of a rapidly 
growing family. The attitude of his new patron was like a tonic to 
his flagging spirits. At Weimar he and his family had been cooped 


up in such narrow quarters that his own health and that of faik 
children had been imperiled. At Cothen, as the friend, rather than 
the servant of Prince Leopold, he seems to have settled with his 
family in the Schioss. After the rigors of court Hfe in, Weimar, Bach 
iBiast have looked forward to Cothen as a blessed dispensation. 

But Cothen proved to be a mixed blessing. Pleasant shelter it 
was, but Bach paid 1 for it by renouncing the most solemn duty he 
had laid upon himself: to dedicate his art to the service of God. 
IB Gothen- this- was literally impossible,, for the official Calvinism 
of tke dynasty allowed only the sternest, most unadorned hymns 
to be sung in chapel. There was- no call for the cantatas and 
chorales that until then had tapped the purest so?urce$ of Bach's 
genius.., Willy-nilly,, he had to turn to the secular art practiced- by 
his father and" grandfather, and provide music for the players in 
the court band, in which the Prince himself played the clavier, 
violin-^ or viola da gamba. Simultaneously he; the most famous 
organist of the age found himself without constant access to an 
organ worthy of hi& supreme talents. All this meant that, at the 
age of thirty-two, Bach had to learn to function in a new world. 

Bach did not completely lose touch with the world be had aban- 
doned. His celebrity as an organist and authority on the instru- 
ment itself brought him constant invitations from other towns. Less 
than a week after his arrival at Cdthen, he was off to Leipzig to 
inspect the new organ in the Paulinerkirche. His report bristles 
with, rare knowledge of acoustics and details o organ manufacture. 
More picturesque are the records of his visit r in 1720, to Hamburg, 
where the seemingly imperishable Reinken was still active. Prob- 
ably Bach went there to compete for the vacant post of organist at 
the Jacobikirche> and as Reinken was one of the judges,, played 
before the ninety-seven-year-old master. After the younger man 
had improvised for a good hour on a theme Reinfoen himself had 
once used,, this mighty voice from the past spoke,, "I thought this: 
art was dead, but I see it still lives in you." Eventually the Jaoobi- 
kirche organ was offered to Bach, but he declined it,, chiefly be- 
cause of his loyalty to Prince Leopold. 

If^ despite this loyalty, Bach really was looking for other employ- 
rnent in Hamburg, there were two reasons., First, there was in 
Cothen no Lutheran school where he could send his children. 
Second, the town became crowded with sad memories; for him 

BACH 35 

when, on returning from a trip to Carlsbad with the Prince, he 
found Ms wife dead and .already buried. Of the seven children she 
had borne him, four survived, and the task of caring for them fell 
on him alone, for the eldest was a twelve-year-old girl. Less than 
a year and a half later, he led Anna Magdalena Wilcken to the 
altar. His new bride, though only twenty, was a court singer earn- 
ing half as much as Bach himself. What was in every sense an ex- 
cellent match turned out to be a iappy marriage, for Anna Mag- 
dalena was a good housekeeper, a good stepmother, and a good 
musician. She bore him thirteen children, including his third fa- 
mous .son, Johann Christian, the "English" Bach, She was his 
faithful companion and helpmeet until his death, and survived 
him for ten years. 

Meanwhile, Bach did not forget his children's musical education. 
Wilhelm Friedemann, always his favorite, was the first to receive 
instruction. The little exercise book his father wrote out for him is 
still preserved. Partly from these exercises, headier fare was soon 
provided in twenty-four preludes and fugues for the clavier. With 
a second set compiled at Leipzig in 1 744, these were published after 
Bach's death as The Wdl-Tempered Clavichord* This title, indicating 
Bach's secondary purpose in composing them, is less mysterious 
than it sounds. "Tempered" merely means "tuned/ 5 and so The 
Well- Tempered Clavichord is Bach's pronuncianiento against the old 
system of tuning instruments which, as H. C. Colles pithily ob- 
serves, "made the instruments beautifully in tune in certain keys, 
the more usual ones, and quite unbearable in others." By writing 
this series of pieces, one for each major and minor key, Bach forced 
upon the old-fashioned tuners that modern system which prepares 
the instrument for playing in any key. 

If The Well-Tempered Clavichord had done nothing more than 
revolutionize tuning, it would still be worth a paragraph in any 
history of music, for much of the effectiveness of the instrumental 
music of the eighteenth century and later depends upon the ability 
to shift from one key to another without catastrophic sound effects. 
But it is as revolutionary musically as technically. These preludes 
and fugues, starting out as exercises for children, have, like Cho- 
pin's etudes, been graduated from the studio to the concert hall, 
where their popularity shows unflagging vitality- Nor is this only 
because of the many-sidedness of the task they set the performer, 


In sheer musical quality, in variety of mood, and in unceasing in- 
ventiveness, they are scarcely matched in the entire field of key- 
board literature. With these "Forty-eight" and the partitas and 
French and English Suites, Bach raised the clavier to a position of 
pre-eminence that its descendant the modern piano has sus- 
tained to this day. 

The Well- Tempered Clavichord has had a varied and amazing ca- 
reer, some of which would have delighted the pedagogue in Bach. 
Not only is it a favorite with virtuosos and their audiences, but it 
is also used as a textbook in the study of harmony, counterpoint, 
and fugue. Although Schumann called it the "musicians' Bible," 
many have dared to violate the sacred text. The unfortunate "Forty- 
eight" have been adapted for other instruments, transcribed, and 
probably even sung. Needless to say, they have not escaped the 
lush orchestrating hand of Dr. Leopold Stokowski. But the first 
prelude of the first set has suffered the strangest fate of all. Using 
it as an accompaniment to the text of the Ave Maria, the composer 
of Faust was inspired to add a honeyed soprano obbligato. But 
even in this form the prelude is indestructible Gounod's Ave 
Maria is among the most popular songs ever manufactured. 

Another favorite from the Gothen period is the set of six con- 
certos written at the request of Christian Ludwig, Margrave of 
Brandenburg, an obscure younger son of the House of Hohen- 
zollern. These stirring, vibrant pieces represent Bach's first excur- 
sion into purely instrumental music on a large scale. They are not 
concertos in the modern sense; that is, they are not for a solo in- 
strument accompanied by the rest of the orchestra. Rather, they 
are more like concerti grossi, in which several instruments have more 
important roles than the balance of the ensemble. The "Branden- 
burg" Concertos exhibit Bach as a tireless experimentalist, con- 
stantly trying new effects, testing the color of various instrumental 
combinations, and indulging his own concepts of form. The "Bran- 
denburg" at their best tremble on the brink of being orchestral 
music in the modern sense, and only Bach's way of conceiving the 
parts vocally keeps them from being so. Andre Pirro, whose study 
of Bach's esthetic is definitive, has flatly called them symphonies. 
Of the six, the third has long been the most popular. Scored for 
strings and clavier, it consists of two vigorous allegros bracing 
instrumental polyphony that moves to irresistible rhythms. All the 

BACH 37 

others have contrasting slow movements and, with the exception 
of the sixth, are scored for strings, wind instruments, and clavier. 
The andante of the second is of a serene and unearthly loveliness 
that even Bach himself has not often equaled. These are but iso- 
lated beauties in five small masterpieces (for the first is by com- 
parison uninspired) that Schweitzer has called "the purest prod- 
ucts of Bach's polyphonic style. 53 

The Well-Tempered Clavichord and the "Brandenburg" Concertos 
by no means complete the tally of Bach's instrumental works. 
There exist, in bewildering profusion, pieces for clavier, violin, and 
various ensembles. In discussing these, confusion worse confounded 
arises from the impossibility of establishing their chronological 
order, and from the absurdity of the names applied to many of 
them by editors and publishers. As enjoyment of these delightful 
pieces does not depend on knowing when they were written, or 
why one is called a French Suite rather than a partita, solving 
these puzzles can safely be left to the musical Dr. Dryasdusts. Bach 
himself was too busy for such minutiae; he did not scruple to move 
a whole section from a secular into a sacred cantata written more 
than a decade later. His borrowings from himself were sometimes 
made with ludicrous results, and only a hair divides his worst 
transplantations from Handel's callously putting Agrippina's words 
and music into Mary Magdalene's mouth. And he borrowed from 
others, too notably some of the best melodies in the St. Matthew 
Passion. Bach was not composing for his biographers: he was al- 
ways devising a cantata for the Duke of Saxe- Weimar, finishing a 
suite for Prince Leopold, or piecing together a Passion for the 
Leipzig worthies he was like a newspaperman with a perpetual 

All of Bach's instrumental music, except that for the organ, be- 
longs in spirit to his happy years at Cothen, whether written there 
or at Leipzig. French Suites, English Suites, partitas, and con- 
certos most of them contain music of rare quality, for Bach could 
not write long without achieving some memorable measures. Oc- 
casionally he strikes a note of grandeur, as in the last movement of 
the second partita for violin alone the sublimely built chaconne, 
as varied, as perfect, and as lifting as a great Gothic cathedral. But 
the adjectives that best describe most of this instrumental music 
delightful, charming, sprightly are not those commonly applied 


to the greatest music. Compared to the Bach of the B minor Mass 
and the Matthew Passion^ they are lightweight. They are the diver- 
sions of a man whose deepest and most intense inspirations were of 
a religious nature. The Italian Concerto has the feckless gaiety of 
a man enjoying his vacation. The French Suites echo the heeltaps 
of Versailles. The concerto for four claviers is a delicious excursion 
into pure melody. 

But the conception of an unrelievedly pious Bach dies hard. He 
loved his: life in Cothen,, even though he could not write religious 
music there. The idea that he was unhappy in Cothen is the inven- 
tion of earnest souls who insist upon standing up for his better 
nature, which they must have unrelieved. Actually., seven years 
after leaving Cothen he. was still writing wistfully of his life there: 
"Its gracious: Prince loved and understood music, so that I ex- 
pected to end my days there. 53 In this: same letter, he revealed the 
true cause of his departure: "My Serenissinms* married a Bernburg 
wife, and in consequence, so it seemed, his musical inclination 
abated, while his new Princess proved to be an amusa" This lady^ 
whom Prince Leopold took as his consort a week after Bach*s mar- 
riage to Anna Magdalena^ disliked music,, and resentment of the 
time her husband gave to it soon changed to jealousy of Bach. 
Leopold 3 s growing coolness fortified the composer in his wish to 
move to a town where his children could attend a Lutheran school. 

In 1722, Johann Kuhnau, one of the earliest composers of pro- 
gram music, died, leaving vacant the cantorate of the Thomas- 
schule. in Leipzig. Although this, was not at the time a very im- 
portant post, six candidates' presented themselves, including, the 
redoubtable Georg Philipp Telemann, musical autocrat of Ham- 
burg. Telemann, whose candidacy was a mere political maneuver, 
was unanimously elected, but preferred to return to Hamburg and 
enjoy an increased stipend. Bach then entered the field,, but the 
electors 3 second choice fell upon one Graupner, a nonentity em- 
ployed as Kapellmeister at Darmstadt. His 1 employer refused to re- 
lease him, however, and Bach was then chosen because, as the 
electors explicitly said, no one better offered himself. By May, 
1723, he and his family were settled in their new home. 

In Leipzig, Bach, entered seriously upon, his career as a litigant. 

* The italicized words in quotations from Bach have been left in the language and 
form in which he wrote them. 

BACH 39 

His official duties as cantor of the Thomasschule, an ancient acad- 
emy for poor students who were tcained to sing in the -choirs of the 
four principal .city churches, would, under ideal conditions, have 
made him musical dictator of Leipzig. But such conditions were 
lacking: there was nothing in the rules and regulations of the 
Thomasschule that dearly defined the cantor's office, and Bach's 
conception of his duties differed widely from what the rector and 
other officials expected of him. He was to furnish a cantata for the 
Thomaskirdhe and the Nikoiaikirche on alternate Sundays he 
favored the Thomaskirche. He was to teach Latin to the scholars, 
and to supervise their .choral training he either neglected these 
duties or delegated them to .others. These omissions led to constant 
and protracted bickering, acrimonious letters exchanged, appeals 
to the Elector of Saxony, and picayune feuds over questions of 
precedence ;and prerogative. Bach, who had gone to Gothen partly 
because he .coveted tke title < Kapellmeister ^ felt that a cantorat^ 
and many of its -duties were beneath his dignity: he salved his 
vanity by .acting .as though he were .still a Kapellmeister > and by 
calling himself .Director Musices. 

When Bach arrived in Leipzig, the opera, founded there as early 
as 1693,, was in a decayed state, and folded up several years later. 
Otherwise, the town was already launched on its stately 'career as 
one of the musical centers of the world. During Bach's lifetime 
there was founded a small civic society of instrumentalists, and 
from this humble origin grew the Gewandhaus concerts, which 
have numbered among their conductors Mendelssohn, Nikisch, 
and Fnrtwangler, A more cosmopolitan life than was common to 
the rest of Germany existed at Leipzig because of the great trade 
fairs that were held there annually. The many foreigners who came 
to these, and the town's large leisure class combined to produce a 
more sophisticated culture than that to which Bach had been used. 

Bach celebrated his first Christmas in Leipzig by performing one 
of his masterpieces the Latin Magnificat. On Christmas Eve, it 
was the pleasing custom at the Thomaskirche one continued well 
into the nineteenth century to stage a sort of mystery play of the 
birth of Christ. Bach's contribution to the fete was his largest 
church work up to this -time: it is scored for a five-part choros, 
soloists, and full orchestra, as that term was .then mteprefced. It is 
rarely heard, for its qualities have less appeal than those of the 


B minor Mass and the St. Matthew Passion. The fact that Bach was 
setting Latin words may well have prompted him to use an aloof, 
objective style which owes much to the technically tight Italianism 
of the times. There is nothing personal or reflective about the 
Magnificat: it depends for its effect on its flawless formality, its 
unearthly jubilance, and its florid conduct of the voices. It is, of all 
Bach's works, the one best meriting the oft-repeated sneering com- 
ment on his music "golden mathematics." 

For ten years or more, Bach's fight for prestige and ideal condi- 
tions for producing his music went on at a jog trot, though his 
field of controversy was slowly widening. He got off to a bad start 
by inheriting a feud with the University authorities from his prede- 
cessor. It involved the ex officio right of the Thomascantor to con- 
duct certain services in the Paulinerkirche, or University church. 
After two years of fruitless warfare with its musical director, Bach 
appealed to the Elector, who instantly commanded the University 
to answer Bach's charges. As their reply was unsatisfactory in cer- 
tain details, Bach sent to the Elector the longest letter extant from 
his pen. Its Jesuitical casuistry elicited from Augustus the Strong 
a fence-straddling reply worthy of the oracle of Delphi. It indicated 
the separate provinces of the Stadtcantor and his opponent, but left 
the boundary between them vague. Therefore, when the Electress 
Christiane Eberhardine died, the feud took a new turn, as neither 
rival had a clear title to the right to conduct the memorial service 
for her august and truly lamented majesty. This time Bach won: 
on October 17, 1727, seated at a clavier in the organ loft of the 
Paulinerkirche, Johann Sebastian triumphantly conducted one of 
his less distinguished compositions. 

Less acrimonious, but involving finer music, was a misunder- 
standing with the Nikolaikirche, always the stepchild of Bach's 
conscience. Among his duties was that of providing the Thomas- 
kirche and the Nikolaikirche on alternate years with special Good 
Friday music known as a Passion. In applying for the cantorate, 
he had composed a Passion to prove his abilities, and had per- 
formed if in the Thomaskirche on Good Friday, 1723. The au- 
thorities of the Nikolaikirche, which had missed its turn in 1722, 
were eagerly awaiting the Holy Week of 1724, when they were sud- 
denly confronted with programs announcing that the Passion 
would again be performed in the Thomaskirche. They protested, 

BACH 41 

and Bach answered that their facilities were inadequate: the gal- 
lery was too small, and the organ was a wreck. By immediately 
tending to these matters, the authorities forced Bach's hand, and 
on Good Friday, 1 724, the Nikolaikirche heard the St. John Passion. 

This was the first of possibly five Passions that Bach wrote, of 
which two unquestionably authentic ones remain. A third, though 
in his handwriting, is probably a copy of a work by another com- 
poser. When Bach died, his manuscripts were divided among the 
members of his family, the Passions falling to Karl Philipp Eman- 
uel and Wilhelm Friedemann. The methodical younger son cher- 
ished his share, and the John and Matthew are therefore preserved. 
But the ne'er-do-well Wilhelm Friedemann lost the three entrusted 
to him. His loss of these has given rise to a literature of conjecture 
as to their nature and quality that almost equals the commentaries 
on the existing Passions. 

Bach was not fortunate in the libretto for the John Passion. He 
used, in addition to direct quotations from the eighteenth and 
nineteenth chapters of the Gospel according to John, parts of a 
poetic paraphrase of the same material by Barthold Heinrich 
Brockes, a Hamburg town councilor. Despite its confused and 
feeble character, Brockes' libretto was much favored by other 
eighteenth-century composers, including Handel. Bach attempted 
to improve on Brockes, and achieved passages whose absurdity 
surpasses even the original. His work on the text clearly evidences 
the harried spirit of a man writing against time, and the music 
itself shows traces of the same hurry. The whole work produces a 
certain disjointed effect that certainly was not part of the compos- 
er's plan. But the John Passion was written as part of a church 
service in which every circumstance conspired to bridge what mod- 
ern concertgoers may feel are gaps in the formal structure. 

The John Passion opens with a massive chorus done in Bach's 
largest manner. It is, with the possible exception of the alto aria, 
"Es ist vollbracht," the most effective section of the work. Certain 
portions are positively operatic in their impact, notably in the 
Golgotha music, where the mighty catechism of the full chorus is 
answered by a solo voice, producing a moment of piercing, intoler- 
able tragedy. Although the rest of the Passion is not at this intense 
pitch, there are many surpassingly fine pages evoking despair and 
triumph, interspersed with passages of the most appealing tender- 


ness. And yet, with its many excellences, the John Passion has a 
way of creaking at the joints: the episodes succeed each other 
without cumulating. The work in its present state was twice re- 
vised by Bach; even so, it remains a stringing together of musically 
unequal units. v 

The St. Matthew Passion leaves no such impression of makeshift. 
From the first moment, when the choral floodgates are flung open, 
to the tragic revery at Christ*s tomb, this tremendous drama, 
which is scored for three choruses, two orchestras, two organs, and 
soloists, and which takes three hours to perform, is deeply felt, 
flawlessly designed, and magnificently achieved. First produced at 
the Thomaskirche in 1729, it shows such unfailing command of 
the material that it lends weight to the well-attested theory that 
another Passion, now lost, intervened between it and the John 
Passion. The Matthew is, by comparison, a revolutionary work. 

In the first place, Bach was not plagued by a poor libretto. 
Christian Friedrich Henrici, a local postal official who wrote under 
the name of Picander, had collaborated with him as early as 1725, 
and now provided a workmanlike and thoroughly adequate text, 
which, considering the abject state of German poetry at the time, 
was no mean task. It was so exactly what Bach needed that we can 
assume that Picander was an amiable man who probably was 
happy to take any reasonable suggestion from his collaborator. He 
cleverly devised the Matthew Passion libretto so that the two sec- 
tions are contrasted dramatically: the first is lyrical, reflective, al- 
most a commentary, until, in its closing moments, Judas' betrayal 
of Christ foreshadows the swiftly moving catastrophe of the second 
section. The tragic problem is set in part one: in part two it is 
resolved. In this Passion Bach*s supreme flight in the purely Ger- 
man manner the collaborators limn the Christ loved by the sim- 
ple Lutheran congregations, the human being who suffered for 
their redemption, rather than the God incarnate glorified in the 
ultramontane splendors of the B minor Mass. 

The key to the vastness of the Matthew Passion is Bach's profound 
conception of the Christ. In the John Passion he made no attempt 
to differentiate musically between the words of Christ and those 
of the other actors in the drama; in the Matthew His voice is dis- 
tinguished from the others by having a string accompaniment, one 
that adds luminosity and warmth to the tonal color whenever He 

BACH 43 

speaks. Bach's sensitive response to text is evident in many works, 
but in the Matthew Passion he surpassed himself. At no point has he 
failed the slightest promptings of the words; the merest syntactical 
shift finds its counterpart in some subtle alteration in musical tex- 
ture. Yet it is never precious or oc^rsubtilized: the design persists, 
the structure coheres. If at any moment Bach seems to clothe his 
text too realistically (and it must be admitted that the musical 
cockcrow strains the integrity of the structure), he recovers himself 
immediately by some miraculous touch. 

The Matthew Passion was received with a bewilderment of which 
one of Bach's pupils has left an account: "Some high officials and 
well-born ladies in one of the galleries began to sing the first Choral 
with great devotion from their books. But as the theatrical music 
proceeded, they were thrown into the greatest wonderment, saying 
to each other, 'What does it all mean? 3 while one old lady, a 
widow, exclaimed, c God help us! 'tis surely an Opera-comedy!" 3 
Such a reception, which must have been Baches common lot as a 
composer, was not calculated to improve his touchy disposition, 
and his wrangling with the authorities vexed them so that when 
the councilors met to appoint a new rector, one of them expressed 
the fervent hope that they would "fare better in this appointment 
than in that of the cantor." Their pent-up .anger at Bach's grand 
manners and arrogant disregard of his pedagogical duties finally 
burst forth in a threat to sequestrate his moneys. 

But if the town fathers were fed up, so v/as Bach. It is certain 
that by October, 17,30, he was ready to relinquish the cantorate 
and go elsewhere. It is to his straining at the leash that we owe 
the most personal of his extant letters, written to Georg Erdmann, 
a childhood friend who was then the Tsarina's agent at Dan- 
zig. "Unfortunately," Bach wrote, "I have discovered that (i) this 
situation is not as good as it was represented to be, (2) various 
accidentia relative to my station have been withdrawn, (3) living is 
expensive, and (4) my masters are strange folk with very little care 
for music in them. Consequently, I am subjected to constant an- 
noyance, jealousy, and persecution. It is therefore in my mind, 
with God's assistance, to seek my fortune elsewhere. If your Honor 
knows of or should hear of a convenable station in your town, I beg 
you to let me have your valuable recommendation. Nothing will be 
wanting on my part to give satisfaction, show diligence, and justify 


your much esteemed support. My present station is worth about 
700 kronen a year, and if the death-rate is higher than ordinaire- 
ment, my accidentia increase in proportion:, but Leipzig is a healthy 
place, and for the past year, as it happens, I have received about 
100 kronen less than usual in funeral accidentia. The cost of living, 
too, is so excessive that I was better off in Thuringia on 400 kronen." 

After his bill of complaints, with its pettifogging note. Bach 
passes to a newsy paragraph about his home life: "And now I must 
tell you something of my domestic circumstances. My first wife 
died at Gothen and I have married again. Of my first marriage 
are living three sons and a daughter, whom your Honor saw at 
Weimar and may be pleased to remember. Of my second marriage 
one son and two daughters are living. My eldest son is a studiosus 
juris, the other two are at school here in the prima and secunda 
classis; my eldest daughter as yet is unmarried. My children by my 
second wife are still young; the eldest boy is six. All my children 
are born musici; from my ownfamilie, I assure you, I can arrange a 
concert vocaliter and mstrumentaliter\ my wife, in particular, has a 
very clear soprano, and my eldest daughter can give a good ac- 
count of herself too." 

But things cleared up. The bumbling old rector, whose dotage 
had been unequal to the task of suppressing faction, was succeeded 
by a man of very different stripe, Johann Matthias Gesner. A man 
of generous affections and wide taste, and himself a leader of the 
new humanism that was warming the intellectual currents of 
eighteenth-century Germany, he immediately appreciated Bach, 
and exerted his sympathetic nature to soothe the troubled waters. 
For nearly five years the cantor enjoyed comparative calm, almost 
as if he were gathering strength for the bitter controversies of the 
late thirties. 

In 1729, Bach was appointed honorary Kapellmeister to his old 
friend, Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. About this time, he began 
going frequently to Dresden, ostensibly to take his favorite son, 
Wilhelm Friedemann, to the opera, but actually to canvass pos- 
sibilities for advancement at the Elector's court. Here he met the 
now-forgotten, but then world-famous, Johann Adolf Hasse, and 
his dazzlingly lovely wife, Faustina. Hasse was Hof kapellmeister ., and 
divided the honors of the royal opera with Faustina, he as com- 
poser, she as prima donna. It is doubtful that Hasse cared more for 

BACH 45 

Bach's compositions than the Thomascantor did for his. Bach's at- 
titude toward opera in general is summed up in his "Well, Friede- 
mann, shall we go to Dresden and hear the pretty tunes?" In 1 73 1 , 
when he was there to hear tlit premiere of one of Hasse's operas, he 
gave a recital at the Sophienkirche, after which the Hofkapell- 
meister joined the chorus of those who hymned Bach as the king of 
organists. This recital, coming after seven years' retirement as an 
organist, launched Bach on a new career of trips to near-by towns 
to "examine and display" organs. 

In 1733, Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, 
passed to whatever reward comes to a man who has begotten 
three hundred and sixty-five illegitimate children. During the 
period of mourning decreed by the court, less music was used in 
the churches, and Bach's duties were therefore light. He used his 
leisure to concoct a Latin Kyrie and Gloria parts of the Mass 
common to the Roman and Lutheran services that might aptly 
accompany a request to a Catholic sovereign for the office ofHof- 
compositeur, a distinction that would strengthen his hand in Leipzig. 
Unfortunately, the gift and petition found Augustus III immersed 
in the troubled waters of Polish politics, and Bach had to wait 
three years for his appointment. Although the Kyrie and Gloria 
seem never to have been performed for Augustus, this did not deter 
Bach: in five years he welded them into a structure so vast that it 
could never be performed as part of any church service. This was 
his supreme masterpiece. 

The B minor Mass is the greatest composition ever written. Its 
sustained sublimity would seem to predicate Bach, the very vessel 
of divine inspiration, creating it whole in one mighty surge. Ac- 
tually, it was composed and arranged in an amazingly desultory 
manner. If, as many believe, it was finished in 1740, it had taken 
as long to complete as The Last Judgment. But Bach, unlike Michel- 
angelo, had not been working exclusively on his masterpiece: quite 
literally, he did it in his spare time. It does not even consist of 
entirely new material though the samples he had sent to Augus- 
tus III did: throughout, he borrowed copiously from himself. Of 
the twenty-six divisions of the Mass, several are adaptations from 
sacred cantatas, and at least one had its ultimate source in an 
unquestionably secular piece. Naturally, a work put together in 
this fashion does not have the same kind of unity as a Mozart 


symphony or a Beethoven quartet But it is doubtful whether the 
conglomerate text of a Mass demands this kind of unity. What holds 
the B minor together,, and gives the impression of a unifying de- 
sign, is its consistently Bachian character. 

The Mass opens with a five-part fugue, 126 bars long, whose 
severe and uncompromising woefulness prepares the least aware 
for this fearsome journey into a new musical world. The very form 
of this Kyrie sets it apart from the intimate German utterances of 
the cantatas and Passions: we hear once again, after more than a 
century, the accents of Palestrina. Luther suddenly recedes into 
the remote distance, and the vast, impersonal voice of Rome is 
heard. As the huge liturgical machine gets under way,, Spitta says, 
"The solo songs stand among the choruses like isolated valleys be- 
tween gigantic heights, serving to relieve the eye that tries to take 
in the whole, composition." Bach moves among the complexities 
of the text with perfect ease,, and even at that part of the Credo 
where the Nicene Fathers fell into doggerel keeps to the lofty plane. 
And when the text itself is most dramatic, as in the Resurrexit, when 
the tragic despair of the Crueifiws is dissipated in an outburst of 
ecstatic joy, Bach creates page after page of a majestic intensity 
unequaled in music. 

The history of the B minor Mass is unique. Never given in its 
entirety during Bach's, lifetime, it did not have its first complete 
performance until well into the nineteenth century. Today it is the 
most famous, and possibly the most popular, of Ms larger com- 
positions. Bach Societies everywhere devote much of their time 
and energy to "working up" the B minor > most often with in- 
different success. The Bach Festival, at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 
annually presents it with pious attention to detail; it attracts ca- 
pacity audiences from, all over the world. 

In glaring contrast to the ever-growing popularity of the Mass 
is the unworthy fate of the vast majority of Bach's vocal works. Of 
more than two hundred cantatas, as- well as a considerable mis- 
cellany of pieces going under other names, but few have been 
performed in the United States. Yet these, far more than the Pas- 
sions and the B minor Mass, represent the intimate side of Bach's 
creative nature; not only did he earn his daily bread by composing 
them (sometimes at the rate of one a week), but they were them- 
selves the bread of life to him, based as they are on those simple 

BACH 47 

Lutheran hymn tunes that were his first musical loves. The can- 
tatas, too, rather than the Passions and the great Mass, give us the 
most varied and nearly complete picture of Bach as a vocal writer. 
They were composed for every Sunday and great feast of the 
church year, and range from the most solemn and poignant lamen- 
tations to canticles of pure joy. Some are mystical and contempla- 
tive, others so dramatic that they lack only action to be operas. 

Those few cantatas that have been made accessible through 
occasional performances, transcriptions, and recordings are mas- 
terpieces in small. The Easter cantata, Christ lag in Totesbanden, is 
a stark frenzied commentary on the death sacrifice of the Son of 
God. In Em feste Burg, Bach,, with the foursquare Gospel in his 
hand, thunders forth his simple German credo. And in portions of 
W&chet auf the music reaches such passionate heights that it has 
been called the greatest love music before Tristan und Isolde. The 
choice of the cantatas performed lias admittedly been fortuitous: 
there is every reason to believe that the untapped remainder is an 
inexhaustible supply of great musk* One of the reasons heard most 
frequently for not giving these works is that Bach did not know 
how to write for the voice. This is merely an excuse for singers too 
lazy to learn more than the bare fundamentals of their craft. Some 
difficulties arise from the fact that notes now represent a much 
higher pitch than they did in Bach's day. Even allowing for this, his 
vocal music at its most complex is not unsingable; rather, it is the 
most rewarding a conscientious singer can hope for, as it exploits 
the fullest resources of the human voice. 

Only twenty-four of the cantatas are written to secular texts, 
and even many of these are predominantly religious in feeEng. But 
in a few of them Bach shows a refreshingly topical slant. The 
"Coffee" Cantata satirizes a Leipzig that, when coffee was still a 
fad of the wealthy, boasted eight licensed coffeehouses. Dm Streit 
zwischen Phoebus und Pan strikes a more personal note because of its 
connection with Johann Adolf Scheibe, a voluminous composer 
and criticaster Bach had blackballed for a job, and who took his 
revenge by indicting the bases of ins enemy's musical style. Bach, 
in lampooning Scheibe as Midas, got back at him much as Wagner 
was to scuttle his enemies in Lie Meistersinger. Scheibe, however, 
probably reflected the bafflement of even the more cultured among 
Bach's audience when exposed to his complex style. 


"This great man," Scheibe wrote, after the conventional tribute 
to Bach's prowess at the organ, "would be the wonder of the uni- 
verse if his compositions displayed more agreeable qualities, were 
less turgid and sophisticated, more simple and natural in charac- 
ter. His music is exceedingly difficult to play, because the efficiency 
of his own limbs sets his standard; he expects singers and players 
to be as agile with voice and instrument as he is with his fingers, 
which is impossible. Grace notes and embellishments, such as a 
player instinctively supplies, he puts down in actual symbols, a 
habit which not only sacrifices the harmonic beauty of his music 
but also blurs its melodic line. All his parts, too, are equally me- 
lodic, so that one cannot distinguish the principal tune among 
them. In short, he is as a musician what Herr von Lohenstein* 
used to be as a poet: pomposity diverts them both from a natural 
to an artificial style, changing what might have been sublime into 
the obscure. In regard to both of them, we wonder at an effort so 
labored, and, since nothing comes of it, so futile. 5 * 

As Bach, reviving Phoebus und Pan in 1749, satirized a new ad- 
versary as Midas, it is probable that he became reconciled with 
Scheibe. Less happy was the outcome of a long and bitter contro- 
versy with Gesner's successor as rector of the Thomasschule, Johann 
August Ernesti. Although his reputation as a classical scholar has 
justly dwindled, there is no doubt that Ernesti stood forth as one 
of the leaders in the movement to free institutions of learning, as 
Charles Sanford Terry says, "from the standards of the age in 
which they originated, from the classical trammels of the Renais- 
sance, and the theological bonds of the Reformation. . . ." As 
Ernesti naturally tried to shift the Thomasschule's emphasis from 
music to a general curriculum, his activity conflicted with the 
cantor's personal interests. Bach was unconsciously shunted into 
the position of a pigheaded opponent of the Zeitgeist, for, after sift- 
ing all the petty details of this dreary tug of war, it is clear that the 
equally pigheaded Ernesti was on the side of progress. After keep- 
ing the rector, the cantor, the students, and sundry town busy- 
bodies in an uproar for several years, the struggle seems to have 
died of sheer inanition. Or perhaps Bach's appointment as Hof* 
compositeur in 1736 salved his injured feelings, and made his ad- 

* D. C. von Lohenstein (1665-1684) wrote numerous wooden dramas. 

BACH 49 

versaries feel that they had best not proceed farther against so 
lofty a personage. 

Augustus III asked Baron Karl von Kayserling to deliver the 
long-delayed appointment to the composer. This envoy's insomnia 
called forth one of Bach's most delightful clavier works. Kayserling^ 
a man of culture, kept a private musician named Goldberg, a pupil 
of Bach and his son Friedemann. For this David, whose chief 
duty was to relieve his wakeful hours with cheerful melodies, the 
amiable Saul commissioned Bach to supply a new musical balm, 
and the result has been known ever since as the "Goldberg" Varia- 
tions. They doubtless performed their work well, and Kayserling 
affectionately referred to them as "my variations." He paid off 
like a true grandee, sending Bach one hundred louis d'or ia a 
golden goblet. The insinuating and delicious suite has had a 
notable progeny, for from it stem the tremendous "Eroica" and 
"Diabelli" Variations of Beethoven and, less directly, Brahms 9 
achievements in the form. 

In giving the title of Hofcompositeur to Bach, Augustus III had 
set the official seal on a creative faculty that was well-nigh spent. 
In 1736 the master still had fourteen years to live, but aside from 
a mere handful of cantatas and a few finishing touches on the B 
minor Mass, his vocal work was behind him. The Dresden ap- 
pointment was far from an empty honor: it involved frequent 
attendance at court on ceremonial occasions. Bach was often away 
playing and testing organs. In his spare time he was editing and 
arranging his works, preparing for death by putting his remains in 
order, as great men often do. He paused from his labors in 1 744 
to complete the second part of The Well-Tempered Clavichord, which 
had been composed as study pieces for his second family just as 
the first part had been written for his elder children. 

The widespread ramifications of his first family, as well as the 
educational needs of his second, now took up more and more of 
Bach's time. Wilhelm Friedemann, first at Dresden and then at 
Halle, seemed to be starting the brilliant career his doting father 
hoped for him (mercifully he managed to check until after the old 
man's death an un-Bachian talent for loose living that finally 
wrecked his life) . Johann Gottfried Bernhard was less considerate. 
After running out on his organist's job and numerous debts he 
disappeared, and when next heard of had died of fever. Karl 


Philipp Emanuel, though less endowed with native genius than 
Wilhelm Friedemann, had inherited his father's steadfast charac- 
ter, and at an early age was on the way to becoming the most dis- 
tinguished musician of his generation. 

In 1 740 Karl Philipp Emanuel, though technically a Saxon sub- 
ject, accepted a post at the court of Frederick the Great, who was 
about to launch an attack on Augustus III, Austria's ally. He was 
on excellent terms with the flute-playing King, whom he often 
accompanied, and was promoted in 1 746 to the position of Kam- 
mermusikus. When EmanuePs first son was born, Bach doubtless 
would have gone to Berlin to attend the christening had not Fred- 
erick chosen that very month November, 1745 for investing 
Leipzig. Bach had to wait two years to see his first grandson. Tak- 
ing Wilhelm Friedemann with him, he set out for the Prussian 
capital. Emanuel, who was proud of his father, knew the music- 
loving sovereign would appreciate Bach's playing, and informed 
the King that he was coming. 

When told of Bach's arrival in Potsdam, Frederick was just sit- 
ting down to participate in his usual evening concert. He rose 
excitedly, and exclaimed, "Gentlemen, old Bach is here!" Com- 
manded to join the King at once, Bach appeared in his traveling 
clothes. Frederick greeted him warmly, high-flown compliments 
were exchanged, and the old cantor was brought face to face with 
an instrument he had never seen before a piano. He immediately 
sat down and improvised fugally on a theme that the King gave 
him there and then. He disliked the instrument, but gave so mag- 
nificent a performance that Frederick invited him to return the 
next day, give an organ recital, and again attend him in the 

Back in Leipzig, prompted both by his admiration of the King's 
theme and his eagerness to advance EmanuePs fortunes by a dip- 
lomatic stroke, Bach composed a musical gift for Frederick. Using 
the theme as the basis of several complicated fugues and canons, 
and adding a grateful flute part, Bach devised the so-called Musika- 
lisches Opfer, had it engraved, and sent the first sections to Potsdam 
with an unusually flowery letter of dedication. It is problematical 
whether Frederick, who collected great men as an entomologist 
collects specimens, quite realized that he was crowning the mortal 
career of the greatest of all composers. 

BACH 51 

Bach did not forget the Kong's theme. It haunted his mind, and 
he finally arrived at the idea of using a condensed version of it as 
a guinea pig to be subjected to every possible contrapuntal opera- 
tion. He called these experiments simply "counterpoints/ 5 and 
there is not a scrap of evidence that he ever intended them to be 
played. He did not even specify the medium for which they were 
intended if, indeed, they were intended for anything more than 
object lessons. But his editors got hold of these "counterpoints/* 
as well as some fragments that have no earthly connection with 
them, and published the odd assortment as Die Kunst der Fuge. It 
has been adapted for solo piano, for two pianos, for string quartet, 
for orchestra. And it has been selected by Bach cultists as the very 
ark of their covenant with an esoteric Johann Sebastian of then- 
own imagining. 

Heading those amused at this sanctification of the c "counter- 
points" would undoubtedly be Bach himself. The truth is that 
most of these diabolically clever solutions of contrapuntal puzzles 
are thankless in performance, while the few with real musical ap- 
pea] do not sufficiently relieve the crushing tedium of listening to 
Die Kunst der Fuge as a whole. The less extravagant fugues rank 
with the best in The Well-Tempered Clavichord, but they are not 
enhanced by being played with others of which Parry said, "Bach 
possibly wrote them just to see if it could be done; he certainly 
would not have classed them as musical works unless as extremely 
abstruse jokes. 55 

The fact that Die Kunst der Fuge breaks off abruptly in a fugue 
on the notes B A C H (B is B flat, H is B natural in German nota- 
tion) tells dramatically the failure of Bach's health. Whether he 
became blind at this point, or, what is more likely, suffered a 
paralytic stroke, is not known. The certain facts are that by the 
summer of 1749 he was so incapacitated that there was talk of ap- 
pointing his successor as Stadtcantor, and that in January of the fol- 
lowing year he entrusted his tired eyes to the knife of the "Chev- 
alier John Taylor, Opthalmiater. 55 It is difficult to say whether 
Taylor was a quack or was consistently called in too late, but his 
principal claim to fame is that he operated with varying degrees of 
unsuccess on three of the greatest men of the eighteenth century 
Bach, Handel, and Gibbon. 

On July 1 8, after six months of darkness prescribed by Taylor 


as a postoperative requisite, during which Bach chafed at the in- 
activity and reacted poorly to the dosage, he definitely rallied. It 
was then decided to admit light into the sickroom, and test his 
sight. He could distinguish objects in the room and the faces of 
his anxious family. But the excitement was too much for him: a 
few hours later he had a stroke. For ten days he lay unconscious 
and in a raging fever. Toward evening, on July 28, 1750, he died. 
Before his burial, three days later, the town councilors had ap- 
pointed his successor at the Thomasschule. 

At the time of his death, Bach was known throughout Germany, 
but as his fame was chiefly that of an organ virtuoso, it did not 
endure into an age when the organ ceased to dominate music. He 
was soon forgotten by everyone except his family and a few of his 
pupils. His small estate, consisting mainly of musical instruments, 
theological tomes, and household furnishings, did not suffice to 
maintain his widow and four children who were still minors. Four 
of his grown children seem not to have lifted a finger to help Anna 
Magdalena. Karl Philipp Emanuel was the sole exception: he took 
the youthful Johann Christian to live with him, and helped to 
form that facile talent which later made "the English Bach" Lon- 
don's most popular composer of Italianate opera. Anna Magdalena 
survived her husband for ten years, and died in the poorhouse. The 
site of Bach's grave was lost for almost a hundred years, and his 
body was recovered late in the nineteenth century only by a clever 
piecing together of records. The inscription that now marks his 
sepulture is even more stark than that on Palestrina's: 


Chapter Til 

George Frideric Handel 

(Halle, February 23, i685~April 14, 1759, London) 

TTIXCEPT for the fact that Handel and Bach were born only a 
JLJ month apart, and both in Saxony, they had nothing in com- 
mon but genius. Bach was a small-town musician who devoted his 
unsurpassed gifts mainly to the service of the church; Handel wrote 
for a metropolitan audience, and spent most of his life in the 
world's largest city. If he was not precisely obscure, Bach's fame 
was limited to Germany except among professional musicians; 
Handel was for many years the most celebrated composer alive. 
Time has commented ironically on this situation. The fame of the 
Thomascantor keeps growing, and shows no sign of slackening this 
side of deification, but the great god of the eighteenth century has 
fallen from his pedestal. The stricken deity lies neglected while the 
world comes perilously near to overrating Bach if such a thing is 
possible. We hear little of the greater Handel, and too much of 
that little in bad superproductions of Messiah. 

George Frideric Handel,* unquestionably one of the greatest 
musicians the world has ever known, was born at Halle on Febru- 
ary 23, 1685. His father, Georg Handel, was a rich barber-surgeon, 
and one of the town's leading citizens. At the age of sixty-one he 
married as his second wife a clergyman's daughter, and George 
Frideric was the first surviving child of this union of highly re- 
spected and thoroughly mediocre parents, in whose veins flowed 
not a single drop of musical blood. The old barber-surgeon was not 
only unmusical he had an aversion to musicians, and was deter- 
mined that his son should become a lawyer. Nevertheless, a relent- 
less artistic urge drove the child to find an outlet for his musical 
cravings, and in some way (just how, nobody knows) he learned to 
play the organ and the clavier. When he was seven years old, his 
father, who was court surgeon at Weissenfels, took him there on a 
visit. He played the organ for the Duke, who was so delighted at 
the lad's obvious talent that he advised his amazed and nettled 
surgeon to get the boy a music teacher. 

* The form in which, from 1719 to his death, he himself signed his name. 



At Halle they found the very man Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau, 
organist of the Liebfrauenkirche. Romain Holland, a close student 
of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music, testifies to the tal- 
ents of this forgotten musician. From the first, the relations be- 
tween master and pupil were of the warmest. Zachau instantly 
recognized the child's gifts, and lavished the greatest care on train- 
ing him as both instrumentalist and composer. But his most valu- 
able service to Handel, as it turned out, was introducing him to 
the music of other lands, particularly Italy. While studying with 
Zachau, Handel :eems to have begun composing with the un- 
stinted fluency he never lost. When the brilliant pupil needed re- 
freshment, a visit to Berlin was arranged. The eleven-year-old boy 
apparently made this considerable journey alone, and was received 
cordially at court, which was enjoying a flicker of brilliance under 
the dashing leadership of the Electress Sophia. Evidently Handel 
had influential sponsors, for he was commanded to play before 
their Electoral Highnesses. They were so impressed by his pyro- 
technics at the clavier that the Elector offered to send him to Italy 
for further study. But Georg Handel was enraged by the idea, and 
ordered his son's immediate return to Halle. Probably while on 
the way home, the lad was overtaken by news of his father's death 
on February n, 1697. 

Five years later, after preparatory studies, Handel entered the 
University of Halle as a law student, in deference to his father's 
wishes. Thereafter he did not strain his filial piety: a month after 
matriculating, he accepted a temporary appointment as organist 
at the Domkirche. Only a recognition of his extraordinary gifts 
could have persuaded the tight-lipped Calvinists to give this re- 
sponsible position to a seventeen-year-old college boy not of their 
faith. The youthful Georg Philipp Telemann, even in 1702 well on 
the way to becoming the most prolific of composers, passed through 
Halle about this time, and wrote a eulogy of the "already famous 
Handel." It was on the cards that his native town could not long 
hold this prodigious boy. In 1 703, probably after consulting Zachau, 
he responded to the lure of Hamburg, the capital of German opera. 

The musical tsar of this busy seaport was the notorious Reinhard 
Keiser, then at the height of a variegated career. Handel naturally 
gravitated to Reiser's opera house, where he was soon playing the 
violin and imbibing the fecund ideas and lyric melodies of this 


vest-pocket Mozart. It is probable that Handel's relations with 
Keiser were on a rather formal basis, but he found a warm though 
capricious friend in Johann Mattheson, another law student who 
had turned to music. A man of wide versatility, Mattheson sang, 
composed, and conducted. When deafness caused him to abandon 
these activities, he turned to writing, and left behind him more 
than eighty books containing invaluable source material about the 
music of his epoch, as well as contributions to musical theory that 
are still significant. 

Handel and Mattheson had much to offer each other, and their 
common youth made interchange easy. Handel was eager to know 
all about the workings of an opera house bulwarked by a quarter 
century of brilliant achievement. Mattheson, who had already had 
an opera produced, willingly played the city mentor to the new- 
comer, whose genius he immediately and enviously sensed. 
They became inseparable, and when Mattheson went to Liibeck 
to try out as Buxtehude's successor at the Maiienkirche, Handel 
accompanied him. When they heard that the new organist was 
required to marry Buxtehude's daughter, they took one look at the 
Fr'dulein, and then did what Bach is said to have done a few years 
later ran as fast as they could. 

Mattheson' s Cleopatra, produced sumptuously in 1704, caused a 
stir quite out of proportion to its musical worth: it was such a 
popular success that Keiser's star temporarily waned. Mattheson, 
who fancied himself declaiming the romantic lines of Antony, in- 
stalled Handel in the conductor's place at the clavier, and himself 
resumed the conducting only after dying on the stage. One day, 
Handel, no longer able to brook Mattheson's overweening vanity, 
refused to relinquish his place. Violent words and fisticuffs were 
exchanged, and the audience fanned the flames by taking sides in 
a lusty Hamburger fashion. After the curtain was rung down, the 
erstwhile friends, followed by the enthusiastic audience, repaired 
to the Gansemarkt, and fell to with their swords. Numberless mil- 
lions might have been deprived of the "Hallelujah" Chorus and 
the "Largo" had not Mattheson's sword shattered against a but- 
ton on Handel's coat. This anticlimax seems to have stopped the 
actual fighting. After a sullen truce of some weeks, they were 
reconciled, and with a gala celebration began the rehearsals of 
Handel's first opera. 


Almira, which had its premiere on January 8, 1705, with Matthe- 
son as first tenor, was notable for the splendor of its sets. Although 
written to an absurd and bombastic libretto, it had many dramatic 
high spots which Handel had treated with delightful freshness and 
the sure touch of a born writer for the stage. It was a smash hit, ran 
for almost seven weeks, and was retired only because Handel 
wished to mount his second opera, Nero.* Keiser, who had turned 
the book ofAlmira over to Handel because he was too lazy to write 
music for it himself, was enraged by the success of the parvenu. He 
and his cronies set about to destroy the one man who could have 
rehabilitated the tottering fortunes of their opera house, and suc- 
ceeded in driving him from Hamburg. 

Not that he would have remained, anyway. His somewhat 
languid interest in Italy had been whetted by a meeting with 
Giovan Gastone de' Medici, the dissolute but music-loving tag end 
of the once illustrious Florentine family. Only one thing could 
have induced this gay prince to linger in murky, bourgeois Ham- 
burg the opera. Much taken by Handel's talents and personal- 
ity, he tried to persuade him to migrate south. But the young com- 
poser did not act upon this urging until the machinations of his 
enemies and the decline of the opera house made him realize that 
Hamburg was no longer the best arena for his efforts. So, some- 
time before the Christmas of 1 706, he decided to stake all on an 
Italian hegira. He set out armed with a paltry two hundred ducats 
and a letter to Giovan Gastone's brother Ferdinand. 

Stopping in Florence merely long enough to pay his respects to 
the Medici, compose twenty cantatas, rewrite part ofAlmira, and 
begin a new opera, Handel posted to Rome, doubtless pondering 
the stinginess of Ferdinand, who had once answered Alessandro 
Scarlatti's plea for a loan by saying, "I will pray for you." The 
Holy City, where opera was under a papal ban, was little more 
generous, and Handel was soon back in Florence with the com- 
pleted score of his new opera, Rodrigo. Ferdinand, who had tired of 
Scarlatti's learned and melancholy music, sponsored its production, 
-and so enthusiastic was he over this lighthearted work that he 
Joosed his purse strings, and presented its composer with fifty 
pounds and a set of dishes. Having successfully set an Italian text 
and mastered the flowing Italian vocal style, Handel turned his 

* Love Obtained Through Blood and Murder, or Nero, ran for three nights. 


thoughts to Venice, still lit by the late sun of the Renaissance. 
Here, in 1637, had been built the first public opera house, and it 
was still the most opera-loving city in the world. 

But Venice turned a cold shoulder to Handel's hopes. The doors 
of its fifteen opera houses remained shut against him, though high 
society lionized him as a virtuoso. Alessandro Scarlatti's son 
Domenico, destined to revolutionize the bases of keyboard style, 
and to eclipse the fame of a father deified by the connoisseurs of 
the eighteenth century, first heard Handel at a costume ball. After 
listening spellbound to the masked performer, he exclaimed, "That 
must either be the famous Saxon or the Devil!" The friendship thus 
warmly inaugurated endured for many years. But of decisive im- 
portance in shaping Handel's career were encounters with Prince 
Ernst Augustus of Hanover and the English envoy to Venice, the 
Duke of Manchester. The former engineered Handel's appoint- 
ment as Kapellmeister to his brother,, the Elector of Hanover, later 
George I of England. Manchester pressed him to seek his fortune in 
England, and promised to help him when he got there. 

Handel did not take advantage of these invitations immediately. 
Instead, he traveled southward with Domenico Scarlatti, and once 
again laid siege to the papal capital. Glowing reports of the high 
excellences ofRodrigo had preceded him, and this time the Roman 
nobles vied with each other for the honor of entertaining him. The 
Arcadian Academy, a society of a few artists and many dilettantes, 
feted the dashing Saxon, and two of its most lavish patrons were 
his hosts. Prince Ruspoli built a private theater in his palace for the 
premiere of Handel's first oratorio, La Resumzione, which was really 
an opera disguised to evade the papal ban. Its overwhelming suc- 
cess set all Rome talking, and Handel was prompted to try his 
hand at another oratorio. But though produced under the even 
more distinguished patronage of Cardinal Ottobuoni, nephew of a 
Pope, and furnished with a libretto by another cardinal, II Trionfo 
del tempo e del dmnganno fell flat, partly because the music was too 
difficult for the orchestra assembled by the renowned Corelli, 
Ottobuoni's concertmaster. The work haunted Handel's imagina* 
tion, and, almost fifty years later his last oratorio was called The 
Triumph of Time and Design, 

Ever on the search for preferment and sympathetic understand- 
ing of his music, Handel now drifted to Naples, where the story of 


social success and lack of solid opportunity was repeated. For a 
time this child of the North surrendered to the lure of the southern 
paradise, storing his phenomenal memory with its catchy folk 
tunes. But the only ponderable result of a year's stay developed 
from a meeting with Cardinal Grimani, the Imperial Viceroy. 
This cultivated scion of a princely Venetian family gave him the 
libretto for his next opera., Agrippina, and laid plans for its produc- 
tion at the theater the Grimani controlled in Venice. The cer- 
tainty of a public performance under such propitious circum- 
stances roused Handel from his languor, and in three weeks he had 
completed the score. With the precious manuscript in his traveling 
bags, he returned to Rome, and lingered there until time for the 
new opera to go into rehearsal. 

On December 26, 1709, Agrippina began a spectacular run of 
twenty-seven nights at the theater of San Giovanni Crisostomo. 
It was, beyond question, the best opera Handel had yet written, 
and as Venetian approval was the touchstone of musical success, 
his Italian reputation was made. The echoes of the frantic applause 
carried Handel's name across Italy and throughout Europe, and 
in Venice itself he was more important than the Doge. He had 
justified his rash invasion of Italy, which now lay prostrate at his 
feet. But he had no settled future, and while he was pondering the 
next step Prince Ernst Augustus of Hanover intervened. Night 
after night this already stanch Handelian had sat entranced in the 
royal loge at the Crisostomo. The manifold beauties of Agrippina 
convinced him more than ever that Handel was the man for his 
brother's court. He urgently renewed his invitation, and this time 
Handel accepted. 

Hanover offered as ideal conditions as any musician could hope 
to find in eighteenth-century Germany; the most beautiful opera 
house in the country and a perfectly drilled corps of singers and in- 
strumentalists. This happy state of affairs had been brought about 
by the unwearying efforts of Agostino Steffani, one of the most re- 
markable figures of the age. This charming Venetian a jack-of- 
all-trades with a touch of genius for each was still officiating as 
Kapellmeisterwhtn'H.a.udGl arrived. They had met in Italy, and had 
struck up a cordial relationship based on mutual esteem. It is not 
known whether Steffani graciously yielded place to the younger 
man, or whether misunderstandings with his orchestra and singers 


forced his hand. In any event, Handel soon became Kapellmeister 
with his predecessor's blessing. Although their contact had been 
fleeting, Steffani's influence was decisive in the final molding of 
Handel's Italian manner, and Handel never forgot this debt. 

The new Kapellmeister's first act was to ask for leave of absence 
to go to England. Why did he go? Probably plain restlessness and 
curiosity a desire for new worlds to conquer. England was wear- 
ing her gloomiest autumnal aspect when he landed on her shores. 
Everything was against him. He did not know a word of English. 
The few German musicians resident in London looked upon the 
newcomer as a source of danger to their embattled positions. And 
in Queen Anne's England music was in a state of coma brought 
about by a chain of lamentable circumstances and a dearth of 
national talent. The structure of English music, founded on so fair 
a base by Dunstable, gaining high-vaulted nave and transepts with 
Orlando Gibbons and William Byrd, and crowned with a gleam- 
ing spire by Henry Purcell, had suddenly collapsed. 

Fifteen years before Handel's advent in 1710, Purcell had died 
prematurely. It is idle to speculate what he would have done if he 
had lived longer. In his single opera. Dido and Aeneas., he achieved 
perfection; though an indefatigable writer for the stage, he never 
wrote another true opera. He was too busy with anthems, catches, 
chamber pieces, organ voluntaries, and the other occasional music 
demanded by the exigencies of his numerous official positions. No 
matter whether examined through a microscope or a telescope, 
Purcell is a baffling figure. Artistically speaking, he is a sport: he 
had no recognizable ancestors; more, no heirs claimed his rich 
musical estate, though Handel borrowed what he pleased of it. 
Indeed, Handel's "Englishness" is exactly that borrowing, and is 
betrayed in his mighty choral effects, his widely spaced harmonies, 
and the pungent utterances of his woodwinds and brasses. The 
overwhelming choruses conceived by the Saxon invader, and sung 
at vast tribal festivals these past two hundred years, have served 
to blot out PurcelTs fame. Yet he was a very great composer, far 
ahead of the resources of his age, speaking in a voice that was at 
once unmistakably his own and that of Restoration England. No 
one has less deserved obscurity. 

Musically, then, England was a sorry place when Handel 
arrived there. The drying up of the national genius had left the 


field vacant for foreigners. Thus far, however, though English 
society loved Italian opera, no company had been successful in 
establishing itself. There were plenty of good singers available, but 
no composers of sufficient talent to make society venture out 
among the footpads and murderers who infested the London 
streets and lanes at night. Drury Lane and the Queen's Theater in 
the Haymarket were in such rank sections of town that the dimin- 
ishing audiences feared for their lives going to and from the opera. 
Frequently pockets were picked and noses broken in the theaters 
themselves. With box-office receipts steadily falling, and society 
forsaking town in despairing ennui, it was evident that only a 
novelty of high quality would save the day. Handel was exactly 
the man to fill the bill. 

The astute impresario of the Queen's Theater, Aaron Hill, 
clearly recognized the desperate situation he was in, and as soon 
as Handel arrived, commissioned him to set a preposterous 
libretto based on Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata. Within a fortnight 
Handel gave Hill a masterpiece, and this, under the title of 
Rinaldo, was first presented to an unsuspecting London on Febru- 
ary 24, 1711. Its success was beyond Hill's wildest dreams: over- 
night Handel added England to his empire. In vain did Addison, 
himself the producer of an unsuccessful opera, fulminate against 
Rinaldo; in vain did Steele, with an ax to grind in the concert field, 
come to his friend's aid. Rinaldo ran through the town like wild- 
fire: society danced it, whistled it, warbled it and even returned 
to London to hear it. Between the premiere and June, it played 
fifteen times to packed houses. John Walsh, who published the 
score, made so much money out of it that Handel remarked 
bitterly that Walsh should compose the next opera, and he would 
publish it. 

Although Handel continued to compose operas for a quarter of a 
century, he never surpassed Rinaldo. He himself pronounced the 
air "Cara sposa" the best he ever wrote; "Lascia cKiopianga" which 
he borrowed note for note from Agrippina, is scarcely less fine. 
These lamentations are not, however, characteristic of the opera 
as a whole: Rinaldo brims over with a bright youthful passion that 
Handel lavished on his scores but, seemingly, not on his personal 
relationships. It sounds like the music of a young man very much 
in love, but outside of a not very well attested story of a passing 


fancy for a singer who had sung in Rodrigo, there is not a scrap of 
evidence that Handel ever submitted to the tenderer emotions. 
Indeed, except for Sir Isaac Newton, Handel seems to have been 
the most unemotional man in eighteenth-century England. 

At the end of the season, Handel reluctantly left Piccadilly's 
hospitable drawing rooms,, and returned to assume his duties at 
Hanover. It was a decided letdown after the feverish activity of 
London, and the opera house, which alone might have made life 
tolerable for him, was closed. A year later, he applied for another 
leave of absence, which was granted graciously enough, for the 
Elector was willing to have so welcome an ambassador of good will 
in England, where he hoped shortly to reign. Handel was cau- 
tioned, however, to return in a "reasonable time." His interpreta- 
tion of this vague phrase was the most elastic in history: with the 
exception of flying visits to the Continent and Ireland, he remained 
in England until his death almost half a century later. 

Handel's return was marked by the unsuccessful performance of 
a rather dull opera he had begun in Hanover. Teseo 9 his next pro- 
duction, was a great success, due both to its superb music and the 
excellent libretto furnished by Nicolo Haym, who thus began a 
long and happy collaboration with his great countryman. The 
libretto was dedicated to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, the 
most distinguished art patron of the age, and already, at seven- 
teen, an intelligent admirer of Handel's music. After hearing 
Teseo, he invited Handel to take up his abode at Burlington 
House. Here he came into contact with the social and intellectual 
elite. Pope and Gay were intimates of the house, the former deli- 
cately tasting the music he was to extol, years later, in The Dunciad. 

But an even more august personage was to shed her favor on 
Handel. While Teseo was still playing to crowded houses, he was 
setting his first English text, to celebrate the approaching birth- 
day of Queen Anne. The lonely and embittered daughter of James 
II was so delighted with this Birthday Ode, and with the Te Deum 
Handel composed for the fetes in honor of the Peace of Utrecht, 
that she settled an annual pension of two hundred pounds on him. 
Poor Anne, whose energies were too often spent in securing petty 
revenge, was happy to make England seem a paradise for the 
favorite musician of the Elector of Hanover, whom she detested. 
But Handel was backing tlie wrong horse. In August, 1714, Anne 


did the one thing that has immortalized her: she died. On the same 
day the hated Hanoverian was proclaimed King. 

At first Handel had every reason to fear that his slighted master 
would retaliate. His name was pointedly missing from among 
those commanded to compose music for the coronation, and 
though he kept his pension, he was not summoned to court. But 
George I loved music passionately even Thackeray's superb vili- 
fication grants that. In 1715 the news that Handel had written 
another delightful opera was too much for the King; he sulkily 
missed the first performance, but showed up at the second with 
two fantastic German ladies (his mistress and his half-sister), and 
thereafter came regularly during the balance of the opera's run. 
He and Handel were then formally reconciled. 

The bare facts of this reconciliation, which had such bright 
results for English music, did not please the romancemongers. 
They told a charmingly whimsical story that is still treasured in the 
great human hearts of the broadcasting companies. According to 
this idyl, in 1715 things became so strained that His Majesty's 
benevolent Master of the Horse thought of a quaint stratagem. 
While George was making one of his frequent progresses down the 
Thames, Handel and a band of musicians were to follow closely in 
another barge, and play music that would melt the King. And 
everything fell out just as the kindly old official had planned. 
George was so enchanted with the music that he embraced 
Handel, and forgave him completely. 

There is only one thing wrong with this story: it is not wholly 
true. Part of the Water Music was written and performed in 1 71 5, 
part in 1717, after the reconciliation between Handel and the 
King. Instead of being sprung on George as a surprise, the 1715 
portions were played at his command for a party on the Thames. 
He liked it so well that he had it repeated during the evening, 
though each performance lasted more than an hour. Even in 
the much truncated form in which the Water Music is played to- 
day (as originally published in 1 740 it had twenty-five movements) , 
it can be heard again and again without losing its freshness. 

Handel never composed anything more English than the Water 
Music. It is shot through and through with English feeling; it is 
fashioned with jaunty English rhythms and bold, simple har- 
monies. The hornpipe, which is one of the most effective sections of 


the suite, utilizes a form that reaches back at least to Ben Jonson's 
England. The suite concludes with a robust allegro deciso brim- 
ming over with the gusto of living, and full of high, singing brasses 
that would have delighted PurceU. Written several years before the 
"Brandenburg 55 Concertos (the third of which it resembles in 
rhythmic heartiness), the Water Music is the oldest orchestral piece 
in the standard repertoire. It is difficult to conceive of an age that 
will not yield to its vigorous masculine beauty. 

Handel's reconciliation with George I had doubled his pension. 
Further to emphasize his favor, the King appointed him music 
master to the royal granddaughters an honor, but scarcely a 
pleasure. And when the sovereign, disgusted with English ways, 
decided in 1716 to go home to Hanover he even threatened never 
to return he took Handel with him. For the composer this 
German sojourn was one of almost complete inactivity: the King 
was too busy with politics and the chase to think about music. 
Handel paid a visit to Halle, where he saw his mother, and gen- 
erously relieved Zachau's widow, who had been left in penury. 
He made a sentimental journey to Ansbach to see his old uni- 
versity chum, Johann Christoph Schmidt, and found him and his 
large family in pitiable circumstances. Handel's warm sympathies 
were roused, and as he needed a sympathetic friend to manage his 
affairs, he invited Schmidt to accompany him to England. Schmidt 
accepted, and so successfully did the arrangement turn out that he 
soon became indispensable to his benefactor. He shortly brought 
over his entire family, and they all seem to have lived with Handel. 
One of the sons, whose name was anglicized to John Christopher 
Smith, gradually took over his father's duties as Handel's general 
factotum. It was to this John Christopher, himself a prolific com- 
poser and accomplished organist, that Handel dictated his music 
when he could no longer see to write. He was warmly attached to 
the Schmidts. Once, having removed old Schmidt's name from 
his will in anger, he replaced it with that of John Christopher and 
tripled the legacy. For Handel, to whom love seemed a stranger, 
was the most affectionate and appreciative of men. 

Handel returned empty-handed to England early in 1717, with- 
out even waiting to hear the first performance, in Hamburg, of the 
sole fruit of his German visit a Passion based on the same text 
Bach later used for parts of his John Passion. Not only does this 


work not merit mention in the same breath with Bach's great 
Passions, but it shows that Handel's genius was not congenial to 
the sentiments of German Pietism. As he never showed the slight- 
est interest in his Passion, he probably realized that this type of 
music was not in his province. Poles apart from the profoundly 
subjective Bach, Handel was too much the magnificent extrovert 
ever to be a truly religious composer. 

Handel's return coincided with a lull in the furore for opera, and 
for a while he was at a loose end. More, he was in financial diffi- 
culties. It is true that he had his pension and fees for teaching the 
princesses and a few noble pupils, but such an income was nothing 
to a man who had learned to live lavishly from the high society 
in which he moved. But, as always, he had a windfall. He met 
James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon, an amiable scoundrel who for 
years had enjoyed the best graft in England as Paymaster of the 
Forces. The Earl had amassed an immense fortune, and in 1712 
had begun the building of Canons, a vast palace near London, 
reputed to have cost 230,000. The magnificence of life at Canons, 
and particularly of its musical establishment is thus described by 

"The chapel hath a choir of vocal and instrumental music, as 
in the Chapel Royal; and when his grace goes to church, he is 
attended by his Swiss Guards, ranged as the yeomen of the guards; 
his music also plays when he is at table; he is served by gentlemen 
in the best order; and I must say that few German sovereign 
princes live with that magnificence, grandeur, and good order." 

The director of the music at Canons was the competent but 
pedantic Dr. Johann Christoph Pepusch, later to become famous as 
arranger of The Beggar's Opera. Poor Pepusch had no chance at all 
after his patron met Handel. He got his walking papers in short 
order, and Handel moved in. Here, in surroundings which were, 
even for him, of unprecedented luxury, he lived quietly, spending 
most of his time playing on the clavier or the organ. He occasion- 
ally staged a masque in the private theater or gave a formal recital 
for his master's guests. In 1719, when the Earl was created Duke 
of Chandos, Handel hymned the great event in a group of 
cantatas the "Chandos" Anthems. These little-known works, 
based almost entirely on the Psalms, are in effect sketches for the 


vast religious dramas of his later years. The choruses are big and 
imposing monumental on a small scale. 

In 1720, Handel published his first book of Puces pour le clavecin, 
which were originally noted down for the studies of the little 
princesses. The character of these pieces obviates any real com- 
parison with The Well-Tempered Clavichord: Bach opened up a new 
world of design, while Handel was content to follow safely in the 
steps of Domenico Scarlatti and Couperin. A second book of 
Pieces, published in 1733 (without Handel's permission), is equally 
conventional. His clavier compositions are apt to disappoint the 
listener used to the prodigally ornamented polyphonic schemes of 
Bach. HandePs are unaffectedly barren in harmony, and their 
simple plan of successive tonics and dominants at first suggests 
lack of imagination. These suites, and particularly the second 
book, were in effect but sketches for Handel's own performance. 
They may be filled out in imagination, if the hearer wishes, with 
the wealth of improvisatorial ornament that flowed torrentially 
from Handel's fingers. 

But this does not mean that the suites cannot be enjoyed pre- 
cisely as they stand. On acquaintance, their very simplicity and 
Doric leanness invest them with vigorous beauty, and eventually 
one finds oneself going back to them again and again. The fifth 
suite in the first book contains the air and variations known 
familiarly but absurdly as "The Harmonious Blacksmith." The 
seventh suite in this book, conceived in the grand style Handel 
most often reserved for his great choruses, contains a magnificent 
passacaglia that is ever effective in the many arrangements that 
have been made of it. Finally, in the G major Chaconne, from the 
second suite of Book II, rich variety is created by slight changes 
in pattern a typically Handelian method. It is another essay in 
the grand style, opening maestoso, going on its way in many moods 
scamperingly, playfully, pathetically and ending in a swirling 
cascade of rolling notes. There is nothing in this music that would 
baffle a first-year theory student, and its effect is magical. It 
illuminates Beethoven's judgment: "Go and learn of him how to 
achieve great efforts with simple means." 

Handel's yearning for the stage bore fruit early in 1720, when 
he set John Gay's Ads and Galatea, which contains one of his most 
jocose and engaging airs (for a bass!), "O ruddier than the cherry." 


The same year, probably to a poem by Pope (not one of his happi- 
est flights) 3 he composed Haman and Mordecai, for which the Duke 
of Ghandos was said to have given him 1000. Both of these were 
masques,, and were doubtless first produced in the private theater 
at Canons. Handel then put them aside, and years later produced 
much expanded versions of them. But they were still the char- 
acteristic efforts of a composer working leisurely under the pat- 
ronage of a benevolent prince. Even while he was fashioning these 
trifles, a scheme was under way that was destined to uproot him 
forever., and throw him into the hurly-burly of opera management. 

Disgusted with the trash that was still holding the London 
stage, an aristocratic clique under the direction of the Duke of 
Newcastle floated a shareholding company that was called, by 
George Ps permission, the Royal Academy of Music. It was char- 
acteristic of the age of the South Sea Bubble and other vast money- 
making schemes that an artistic venture, designed to make London 
the capital of opera, should have been put on a speculative basis. 
The entire stock issue of 50,000 was quickly subscribed, each share 
costing 100 and entitling its owner to a permanent seat in the 
house. As early as 1 7 1 9, Handelj to whom the active musical direc- 
tion had been entrusted at the King's suggestion, was in Germany 
hiring singers for the great enterprise. Everything was done on a 
lavish scale. There were associate composers; there were official 
librettists, including Handel's favorite collaborator, Haym; and, 
finally, as stage manager, the directors secured the services of 
John James Heidegger, called "the Swiss Count." If not one of the 
most romantic figures of the time, Heidegger was surely one of the 
most picturesque. His ugliness was a byword, but fortunately it 
was matched by a resourcefulness that amounted to genius. The 
warm friendship between him and Handel had begun in 1713, 
when the kindhearted Swiss had saved the run of Teseo after a dis- 
honest manager had absconded with the box-office receipts. 

The first season of the Royal Academy of Music opened not 
with an opera by Handel, but with a confection by an insignificant 
fourth-rater. It ran six nights, and then the season really opened, 
on April 27, 1720, with Radamisto, one of the loveliest and most 
melodious of Handel's scores. None of the celebrated stars hired 
by Handel had yet arrived, and the difficult role of Zenobia was 


probably sung by the very adequate, but familiar, Anastasia 
Robinson. King George and his entourage occupied the royal box, 
and society stormed the rest of the house, even gallery seats going 
as high as forty shillings. But the music did not need the glamour 
of new stage personalities to get across. For almost two months the 
Haymarket Theater was the scene of nightly near riots by wildly 
enthusiastic audiences. Once more the notes of Handel were on 
every lip. The shareholders were delighted. 

At the moment of Handel's triumph forces were gathering for 
his destruction. Led by his former friend, the Earl of Burlington, 
they included those exquisites who did not consider the large- 
bodied German the most appropriate apostle of pure Italian art. 
Burlington now went abroad to find the real thing, and brought 
back with him Giovanni Battista Buononcini, almost as supreme 
on the Continent as Handel was in England. This affected but 
talented Italian became the spearhead of the growing cabal 
against the man who had re-established England's prestige in 
music. Fate played into his hands: the opera Handel had designed 
to inaugurate the season of 1 72 1 fell flat, despite its fine melodies 
and the magnificent roulades of the most sensational castrato of the 
hour, Senesino. The society that had hailed Buononcini's Astarto 
the season before wanted more music in this lighter vein. Buonon- 
cini was ready. The success of two tuneful operas, produced in 
rapid succession, took the town by storm, and drove most of 
fashionable society into his camp. Momentarily at least, Handel 
was crowded off the stage. 

Buononcini was rashly content to rest on his laurels. He roused 
himself from his luxurious sloth during the next year only to write 
the anthem for the funeral of the great Duke of Marlborough. 
Meanwhile, Handel was deploying his forces for a final struggle 
with his epicene opponent. Great general that he was, he realized 
that London could not be reconquered by fine music alone. He 
therefore sent to Venice for Francesca Cuzzoni, already at twenty- 
two so famed that on the basis of her reputation alone he offered 
her 2,000 a year. But the ugly soprano proved so intractable 
and arrogant that he once threatened to throw her out of a window 
if she did not sing the way he wanted her to. Taming Cuzzoni was 
worth the trouble, for her brilliant performance in the premiere of 
Ottone y on January 12, 1723, helped Handel to regain his pre- 


eminence. Although Buononcini remained in London for another 
decade, even producing an occasional work with some success, he 
quietly faded out as an effective rival to the all-conquering Saxon. 
And yet, a dispassionate observer will agree with the epigram John 
Byrom struck off in the heat of the controversy: 

Some say, compared to Buononcini 
That Mynheer Handel's but a ninny; 
Others aver that he to Handel 
Is scarcely fit to hold a candle. 
Strange all this difference should be 
Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. 

Up to this point Handel had shown himself superior only in kind 
to Buononcini. 

Until 1 724 Handel had been content to fit his happy inspirations 
into the creaking formal patterns of conventional Italian opera. 
Furthermore, he had responded like a weather vane to every 
breeze. Even at the height of the struggle with Buononcini, he 
emulated his rival's style. Now, however, without sloughing off the 
absurd conventions that were to hold opera in chains until Gluck 
rebelled against them, he invested the old forms with a new ex- 
pressiveness. Giulio Cesare and Tamerlano, both produced in 1724, 
suffered from weak librettos, but even so Handel worked wonders 
with them. The recitatives are dramatic revelations of character, 
and Tamerlano^ indeed, built up to such a tremendous climax of 
pathos that the sophisticated and reasonable audiences were sent 
home weeping. 

But circumstances prevented Handel from exploring farther this 
rich new vein, even had he wanted to. Despite the quality of its 
music and the most starry casts in Europe, the Royal Academy of 
Music was tottering. The generalissimo of this vast enterprise was 
desperate. Cuzzoni and Senesino drew such fabulous salaries that 
only nightly capacity audiences could satisfy them and the share- 
holders. And attendance was falling off. Instead of retrenching, 
Handel decided to stake everything on a single throw of the dice 
by importing Faustina Bordoni, Cuzzoni's only rival. In contriving 
to bring together the two most famous sopranos in Europe, Handel 
adumbrated the exploits of P. T. Barnum. He was a man without 
fear: he put them both in his new opera, Alessandro, which opened 


with great reclame on May 5, 1726. As it ran until the end of the 
season, it began to seem that Faustina's salary of 2,000 a year was 
well spent.* 

If the contest between Handel and Buononcini was a spectacle, 
that between Cuzzoni and Faustina was a sideshow. For two whole 
jrears, music played second fiddle at the Haymarket. The audi- 
snces divided into Cuzzonites and Bordonites: not since the days of 
the Empress Theodora and the Hippodrome riots between the 
Blues and the Greens had faction run so high. Footpads and 
tiooligans mixed with the operagoers, and took sides in the rowdy 
demonstrations. Unquestionably the two most important events 
Df the year 1727 were the death of George I in a post chaise on a 
lonely German road and the public hair-pulling match between 
the rival queens of song on the night of June 6. 

In the midst of all this hubbub Handel solemnly became a 
British subject. 

One of the new Englishman's first duties was to provide the 
anthems used at the coronation of George II, in October, 1727. 
The next month, as a further compliment to his adopted country, 
tie presented a new opera, Riccardo Primo, a fantastic hash based 
remotely on the adventures of Richard the Lionhearted. He dared 
to use his rival prima donnas in the cast again, but the public 
would have none of Richard. Handel played every trump in his 
band, but even his belated nationalism peeping from under an 
Italian domino could not save the Royal Academy. The following 
January the happy collaboration of Gay and Pepusch successfully 
exploited, in The Beggar's Opera (which included tunes lifted 
brazenly from Handel), a vein of nationalism that paid real divi- 
dends. But Handel was still too immersed in Italianism to draw the 
moral from its overwhelming success. He saw his few remaining 
patrons flocking to the Little Theater in Lincoln's Inn Fields. 
While Gay and Pepusch were pioneering in musical comedy, and 
packing them in with broad ditties sung in English and strung 
together by rollicking dialogue, the master opportunist at the 
Haymarket could do nothing better than compose another and 
then another Italian opera. Both of these contained much excel- 

* After two seasons Faustina returned to Italy. Later she became as well ac- 
quainted with Bach as she had been with Handel. She died in 1 783 at the age of 


lent music, but they could not save the situation. In June, 1 728, the 
last season of the Royal Academy ended with a huge deficit. 

Still Handel clung to Italian opera. Having lost a fortune for the 
Academy shareholders, he now decided to risk his own and Hei- 
degger's. Accordingly, early in 1729, after leasing the King's 
Theater, he made another Continental foray in search of singers. 
He lingered in Venice until news that his mother had suffered a 
paralytic stroke made him squeeze his huge frame into the first 
post chaise. At Halle he found her in a pitiable state- blind, 
crippled, and mortally ill. In a life singularly free of emotional 
attachments, Handel had lavished all his love on his mother. To 
see her thus stricken dejected him immeasurably, and when, at this 
juncture, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach arrived bearing an invitation 
from his father in Leipzig, Handel was too depressed to accept. 
These two giants of eighteenth-century music never met. 

Reluctantly bidding what he must have known was a last fare- 
well to his mother (she died the following year) Handel returned 
to London, and busied himself with managerial problems. So 
arduous and hectic were these that not until a fortnight before the 
opening did he finish his first offering of the season. Haste played 
him false: the opera was a makeshift that deservedly failed. And, 
in fact, the new management's entire first season was an unmiti- 
gated failure despite the singers Handel had imported. The 
season of 1730-31 was more successful, due as much to the drawing 
power of Senesino as to the revival of several Handel favorites. 
Poro, a new work, was actually declared by connoisseurs to be the 
finest opera he had yet composed. Not a single performance failed 
to pay. The old magic was working once more. But even it could 
not contend against the weather, of which there was a vast deal in 
May, 1731. The King's Theater was the last in London to sur- 
render to an unprecedented heat wave. 

The next season opened dully, and was languishing along un- 
profitably when there took place an event, not in itself important, 
that changed the direction of Handel's life and altered the face of 
English music, Bernard Gates, one of his warm admirers, ar- 
ranged a birthday surprise for Handel a revival of Haman and 
Mordecai., the masque composed for the private theater at Canons a 
decade before. Little did the forty-seven-year-old composer realize, 
as he listened to the children of the Chapel Royal performing his 


Long-neglected work, that from it lie would seize an idea whose 
development would make his place secure among the greatest 
masters of music long after his Italian operas had fallen into un- 
deserved oblivion. And when a second performance drew loud 
plaudits from a picked audience, Handel's only reaction was a de- 
dsion to produce an enlarged version at the Haymarket He 
planned to have it sung by the children of the Chapel Royal, who 
had given so excellent an account of themselves in the Gates re- 
vival. But as soon as the news spread, there were vociferous pro- 
tests from moralists and churchmen. They had protested until 
they were blue in the face about the bawdy farces filling the play- 
houses. They were on firmer ground in objecting to a Biblical 
drama in an opera house. Gibson, the learned and austere Bishop 
of London, brought matters to a head by forbidding the perform- 
ance. This was more than an empty ukase, for the Chapel Royal 
was under his jurisdiction. Handel circumvented the ban by a 
technicality: he further revised Haman and Mordecai, named it 
Esther: an Oratorio in English, and presented it on May 2, 1732, at 
the Haymarket, but without scenery, costumes, or stage business, 
On the fourth night the royal family attended in state, and from 
then on Esther's complete success was assured. 

It was not at once apparent that oratorio would ultimately dis- 
lodge Italian opera from its firm hold on the English heart. In 
fact, Handel's next two experiments in disguised opera were dis- 
heartening, despite the increasing impressiveness of his choruses. 
Deborah was a dead failure, and the measured success of Athalia 
was due mainly to the fact that it was produced for university 
celebrations at Oxford. Here Handel was welcomed with noisy 
admiration by students and dons alike, but his own enthusiasm 
was dampened when he learned that the doctorate of music the 
University intended to confer on him would cost him 100. He 
declined the honor. 

Until 1738 HandePs interest in oratorio was definitely a sideline, 
and he remained generally faithful to his old love. But Italian 
opera proved a faithless wench. Affairs at the Haymarket went 
from bad to worse, and the rise of an opposition opera under the 
sponsorship of Frederick, Prince of Wales (historically a mere inci- 
dent in the bitter feud between George II and his heir), brought 
the Handel-Heidegger management to the brink of disaster. The 


new venture, housed in the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theater, drew 
away from the Haymarket its brightest stars Senesino and 
Cuzzoni and also secured the services of Porpora, the most cele- 
brated singing teacher of the age, and the peerless castrato, Fari- 
nelli. Porpora, who was also the official composer of this "Opera 
of the Nobility," might not compose as effectively as Handel, but 
the Prince's patronage secured the most fashionable audiences 
possible, and his singers were more brilliant than those the Hay- 
market could muster. In July, 1734, Handel and Heidegger 
bowed to the inevitable, and closed their doors. Porpora im- 
mediately leased the Haymarket, which was a better house than 
Lincoln's Inn Fields. 

As a businessman Handel was as resilient as ever: knowing full 
well that Lincoln's Inn Fields was inadequate in every respect, he 
nevertheless took it, and boldly planned his coming season. His 
new opera house was seated in little better than a garbage dump, 
and was a catchall for London's lowest denizens; his once splendid 
galaxy was sadly depleted, and the King's halfhearted patronage 
availed nothing against the Prince of Wales' spirited championing 
of Porpora. Handel revived a few operas at Lincoln's Inn Fields, 
but the response was worse than poor all London was flocking to 
the Haymarket, where the one and only Farinelli was warbling 
inimitably in Artaserse, the masterpiece of Faustina's husband, 
Johann Adolf Hasse. Nor did a move, in December, 1734, to a new 
theater in Covent Garden help matters much. The exquisite 
melodies of Alcina could not leave the English heart completely 
untouched, but generally speaking, Handel's ill luck continued 
throughout 1735. And now, to make matters worse, the robust 
Saxon frame was assailed by the first of a cumulation of ailments 
that were to trouble the latter days of this amiable glutton. He 
was fifty, and had never had the prudence to husband his 

Back from taking the waters at Tunbridge Wells, Handel 
devoted himself feverishly to setting the finest libretto that ever 
fell to his lot a version of Dryden's Alexander's Feast, or the Power 
of Music. He completed the oratorio in twenty days, and shocked 
conservative musicians by hiring a nineteen-year-old English 
boy as leading tenor. This youngster, John Beard, was finally to 
lift Handel from the financial morass as effectively as Farinelli 


had lifted Porpora's company. Alexander's Feast was a triumph, 
Dryden had written this most Dionysiac of English odes in a single 
night: Handel's setting has the same controlled abandon, the full 
flavor of a classic bacchanal. Handel., whose English was so broken 
and halting that he was a laughingstock among the cruel wits of 
the town, honored Dryden's beautiful lines with a perfect under- 
standing that wove for them a sumptuous and entirely appropriate 
garment of song. 

But Alexander's Feast only momentarily stemmed the flood of 
disaster. Even good luck was against Handel. When custom re- 
quired him to write wedding music for the Prince of Wales, he did 
his duty so well that the Prince was won over to his side in the War 
of the Opera Houses. But by winning the Prince he lost the King, 
who declared pettishly that where his son went he was never seen. 
The effect on musical London was simple: Covent Garden and the 
Haymarket exchanged audiences. And both companies rushed 
headlong toward failure. Handel's health became alarming: his 
frantic efforts to shore up his collapsing fortunes were succeeded 
by an obstinate spell of the most abject depression. As Covent 
Garden dragged to its miserable end, the composer was smitten 
with paralysis. His entire right side was affected, he was in agony, 
and for a moment it seemed that his mind was going. While he 
was in this fog of mingled physical and mental anguish, Govent 
Garden closed its doors. Ten days later, Porpora too was forced to 
the wall. 

And now the threat of imprisonment was added to Handel's 
other woes. He was bankrupt, and though most of his creditors 
were well disposed toward him, at least one of them acted toward 
the fallen impresario with malignant severity. Possibly Handel's 
official position enabled him to escape debtors' prison. In any 
event, after giving promissory notes to his creditors, he painfully 
took ship for the Continent. He lingered at Aix-la-Chapelle for 
some months: the paralysis gradually left him and the clouds lifted 
from his mind. When he returned to England in November, 1737, 
he was, to all intents and purposes, completely cured. He found 
London in gloom: Caroline, the beloved wife of George II, was 
dying. To his sorrow, Handel's first task proved to be her funeral 
anthem. Not since the days of Tom^s Luis de Victoria's elegy on 
the death of his august patroness had so majestic a threnody been 


composed. Under such solemn auspices did the disgraced com- 
poser win back his place in the fickle affections of the people. 

But his misfortunes dragged on. Heidegger, the new lessee of 
the Haymarket, staged two new Handel operas early the next year. 
London stayed away, not maliciously, but because Italian opera 
had momentarily worn out its welcome. Handel's inability to 
meet his notes so enraged one of his creditors that he was again 
threatened with debtors' prison. At this juncture he was reluctantly 
persuaded to permit a benefit concert in his behalf. Fashionable 
London, which had so frankly left him in the lurch as soon as his 
entertainment bored them, turned out en masse as if to make 
amends. One thousand pounds was collected, and with this sum 
Handel was able to pay his persecutor, and tell him off in a spate 
of mixed German and English invective. 

In the summer another proof of Handel's place in public esteem 
was provided when the astute Jonathan Tyers, manager of the 
Vauxhall Gardens, London's most fashionable resort, commis- 
sioned Louis-Frangois Roubilliac, a kind of latter-day Bernini, to 
make a statue of Handel for the Gardens. Tyers would never have 
spent the 300 unless he had been certain that it was good busi- 
ness. Even if the public stayed away from his operas, Handel was 
the idol of the hour. Nobody's music was more popular at the 
Gardens: the band nightly played excerpts from his works. Of 
course, Tyers reaped a golden harvest. As for poor Handel, all he 
got was a silver ticket of general admission to the Gardens, en- 
graved by Hogarth. 

Handel reacted to these signs of friendliness with a terrific spurt 
of energy. In April, Heidegger had staged Serse at the Haymarket. 
This new work had been a clever attempt to muscle in on the new 
territory opened up by The Beggar's Opera, But despite a really 
funny libretto and appropriate music, Serse (which looks forward 
to the opera comique rather than backward to The Beggar's Opera) 
had not caught the public fancy. It contained the aria "Ombra 
maifu" which as far as is known evoked no curtain calls opening 
night. It was just another Handel tune. It got no publicity in the 
eighteenth century. Suddenly, in Queen Victoria's time, it was 
taken up, and, as "Handel's Largo" or "The Largo from Xerxes," 
now holds a vast public. As performed today (in the wrong tempo) , 
it is peaceful and majestic, almost solemn in mood; its popularity 


is something of a mystery. What Handel thought of it is not known, 
but as he had a habit of using his favorites over and over, the fact 
that "Ombra maifu" appears in only one opera tells its own story. 

The failure ofSerse finally convinced Handel that his struggle to 
keep Italian opera on the boards was futile. At the age of fifty- 
three, he boldly started at the top of another musical leaf. But love 
dies hard, and during the next three years he worked intermit- 
tently at two operas. These, tuneful though they are, seem half- 
hearted and stillborn. Handel allowed them to be produced care- 
lessly by hack singers : he was busy making history with the oratorio. 
' Had Handel died in 1 738, he would not now be reckoned among 
the titans of music. As far as their value to posterity is concerned 
the first fifty-three years of his life must be counted as a tragic 
waste. In cold fact, some of his finest inspirations lie buried in 
those crumbling operatic scores that seem unlikely ever to be 
revived except as lifeless curiosities. The blame for this neglect 
must be laid unqualifiedly at Handel's own door. He was content 
to acquiesce in the traditional scheme of Italian opera a succes- 
sion of barely related numbers having no integral connection with 
the libretto, itself usually a piece of extravagant and high-flown 
nonsense. It seems doubtful that he ever conceived of the opera as 
a dramatic unity in any event he never achieved it. Many of his 
arias and concerted numbers attain momentary dramatic in- 
tegrity, and a surprisingly high percentage of them are as lovely 
and appealing now as the day they were written. The best airs 
have a springtime spontaneity that is lacking in the otherwise more 
impressive later works. But so long as recitalists confine their ex- 
haustive investigations to the compositions of Oley Speaks, Liza 
Lehmann, Ernest Charles, and other modern masters, it seems un- 
likely that audiences will ever know that Handel wrote more than 
ten or twelve songs. 

Had Handel died in 1738, what now would be salvaged? Prob- 
ably nothing more than the "Largo," "The Harmonious Black- 
smith," and the Water Music. In short, he would belong among 
those small masters who on rare occasions outranked themselves. He 
would be classed among the Rameaus and Corellis and Galuppis, 
with their Tambourins and Weinachtskonzerts and Toccatas. Once in 
a while that discoverer of buried treasure, Bernard Herrmann, 


would dignify the business of broadcasting by presenting one of 
the Concerti grossi,* the best of which challenge comparison with 
the c "Brandenburg" Concertos. But that strange marriage of names 
Bach and Handel would never have been heard. Handel would 
have been, in musical history, just another of that group of eight- 
eenth-century immortals Alessandro Scarlatti, Hasse. Porpora, 
and Jommelli unjustly massacred in the operatic revolution of 
Christoph Willibald von Gluck. 

But Handel in 1738 had more than twenty years to live. Witnout 
worrying about a career that lay in ruins, he set about creating 
or piecing together a new musical form. Just as he had stub- 
bornly kept on producing Italian operas long after the public lost 
interest in them, he now began literally forcing oratorios on his 
audiences. There was bitter resistance. He made and lost fortunes, 
and triumphed in the end only because he happened to die on an 
upswing. It is only fair, however, to observe that the reaction in 
favoF of these magnificent creations eventually drew to them the 
largest and most enthusiastic audiences in the history of music. 

Although Handel had already tentatively explored the possi- 
bilities of oratorio, it was not until 1739 that he turned his back on 
Italian opera, and finally made oratorio the main business of his 
life. His new career began inauspiciously enough. Having leased 
the King's Theater, he produced Saul and Israel in Egypt within a 
few months of each other. The indifference that greeted these 
works is inexplicable: the solemn and majestic Dead March from 
Saul would alone immortalize this work, while the monumental 
Israel in Egypt) now heard all too rarely, does not lack partisans 
who hold it more sublime than Messiah. It is so vast in its propor- 
tions that Handel waited seventeen years before reviving it. The 
thunder of its choruses rolls almost constantly, unfolding the 
awful chronicle of Exodus with epic grandeur. With the surest of 
instincts, Handel rigorously limited the use of solo voices, doubtless 
realizing that they could not sustain the dread cadences of the 
narrative. Of course, as the choruses now used in Israel in Egypt are 
usually at full war strength, outnumbering the orchestra at least 
five to one, it has become almost impossible to hear the oratorio as 
Handel conceived it, with chorus and orchestra of equal size. Sir 

* Although not yet published in 1 738, most of the twelve masterly Concerti grossi 
of Opus 6 had doubtless been composed. 


Donald Tovey, who produced Israel in Egypt in Handel's way, 
called "The people shall hear and be afraid" the "greatest of 
all Handel's choruses." 

Depressed in mind and purse by the failure of these oratorios, 
Handel withdrew once more to the smaller Lincoln's Inn Fields 
Theater. Strangely enough, the very people who had disdained to 
hear Saul and Israel in Egypt at the King's Theater plowed their 
way through the noisome muddy lanes to the large hovel that 
housed HandePs new undertaking. There was war with Spain, and 
the martial flourishes of the Ode for St. Cecilia's Day stirred the 
bellicose Londoners. Soon the town was belligerently droning 
Dryden's worst lines: 

The TRUMPETS loud Clangor 

Excites us to Arms 
With shrill Notes of Anger 

And Mortal Alarms. 
The double double double beat 

Of the thundering DRUM 

Cryes, heark the Foes come; 
Charge., Charge, 'tis too late to retreat. 

For a time, money poured in. Then came an intense cold wave, 
so persistent and unprecedented that it is still known as the "great 
frost of 1740." Handel, whose enterprises had once succumbed to 
heat prostration, tried to make the theater as coldproof as possible, 
and wooed his frozen patrons with a new work of exceeding 
charm U Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderate. Charles Jennens, who 
contrived this potpourri, used parts of Milton's two poems, and 
added a third section by himself a tasteless procedure typical of 
an age which preferred Nahum Tate's bowdlerized versions of 
Shakespeare to the originals. This work failed, and so did HandeFs 
final fling at opera the next autumn. The weary old man withdrew 
into himself, and none but his intimates saw him for almost a year. 
In the drawing rooms of Piccadilly they were saying that Mr. 
Handel was through. 

Suddenly, in November, 1741, he emerged from his shell, and 
sailed for Ireland at the invitation of the Lord Lieutenant. He was 
traveling heavy in his luggage was the manuscript of Messiah., 
which he had composed the previous summer in little more than 


three weeks. In Dublin, he was received everywhere with an ac- 
claim that quickened his chilled blood. He produced several of his 
compositions with growing success. Late in March, the first play- 
bills announcing Messiah appeared in Dublin, and on April 13, 
1742, it was produced at Neal's Music Hall in Fishamble Street. 
Scenes of wildest enthusiasm occurred at this performance, and it 
seems strange that Handel waited until June to repeat it. This 
day turned out sultry, but heat did not deter the Irish: Neal's was 
packed to the roof. Two cathedral choirs sang the mighty choruses 
superbly, and the notorious Mrs. Gibber, who had created the role 
of Polly Peachum in The Beggafs Opera., sang the air "He was 
despised" with such devout tenderness that the Reverend Dr. 
Delany exclaimed, "Woman! for this thy sins be forgiven thee!" 

Messiah is Handel's masterpiece, and among the unquestioned 
masterpieces of music it towers like a mighty alp. In this rarefied 
atmosphere only the tremendous massif of the B minor Mass 
reaches higher. With the Matthew Passion, Messiah crowns the devo- 
tional aspiration of the Protestant genius. From the foursquare 
orchestral introduction to the great concluding chorus, "Worthy is 
the Lamb," the oratorio is sustained on the loftiest level of musical 
invention and spiritual nobility. Unity though Messiah is, it con- 
tains many separate airs which lose little in being performed 
alone. The two tenor airs after the introduction are so moving that 
one hearing Messiah for the first time, and unaware of Handel's 
stanchless melodic inventiveness, might fear that his best work is at 
the beginning. But Messiah is like a palace in which wonderment 
grows at every step, and the mere recital of its treasures is weari- 
some. That outburst of tremendous joy, the "Hallelujah" Chorus, 
which brought cocky little George II to his feet in spontaneous 
homage, has lost none of its overpowering vitality in two cen- 
turies. Handel believed it was divinely inspired: "I did think I did 
see all Heaven before me and the great God himself." The 
pathos of "He shall feed His flock" and "I know that my Re- 
deemer liveth" is not lost even on an unbeliever. The truth is that 
Messiah, like any transcendent work of genius, escapes the bound- 
aries of creed and nation. 

The British did not take to Messiah at once. When Handel re- 
turned from Dublin, he was not so simple as to begin his London 
season with a work he had first produced in Ireland. He presented, 


instead, an entirely new oratorio, Samson., which under the Bang's 
patronage enjoyed the brilliant success it well deserved. This time 
the librettist had bowdlerized Milton's Samson Agonistes, a poem 
from which Handel wrung the utmost dramatic value. Although 
it is Handel on a large scale, and contains such memorable num- 
bers as "Fixed in His everlasting seat 55 and "Total eclipse/ 5 it is 
not of Messiah caliber. And yet, the very people who had ac- 
claimed Samson received Messiah coldly. In vain did George II do 
homage London barely supported five performances of Handel's 
masterpiece in six years. For once, the composer was so annoyed 
that he took to his bed, and somewhat later had recourse to the 
waters at Tunbridge Wells. 

It took a national celebration to rouse Handel from his lethargy. 
On June 27, 1743, the King happened to be with his armies at 
Dettingen, a tiny Bavarian village. Here he chanced to meet a 
much larger French army, and in some inexplicable way won the 
only victory of his brief career as a soldier in the field. A tre- 
mendous celebration with trumpet and drum was in order, and 
Handel rose to the occasion with the specially composed Dettingen 
Te Deum, which was performed on a terrifyingly large scale in the 
Chapel Royal. Needless to say, this Te Dmm was the only im- 
portant result of George IPs great victory at Dettingen. 

During the next two years. Handel was busy producing both 
sacred and secular oratorios, only one of which is still stageworthy, 
Most of these are museum pieces, but Semele is really delicious 
throughout. Unhappily, the lovely "Where'er you walk 35 exerts a 
fatal attraction on every proud possessor of a tenor voice. As sung 
by John McCormack, it comes through as the high lyrical flight 
that Handel wrote. Semele provoked a modest show of interest, but 
the machinations of rival impresarios (who were still true to opera) 
wooed away his patrons, and the productions that followed it soon 
dissipated not only the meager profits from Semele, but also those 
from his Irish tour. And so, in April, 1745, Handel was once more 
forced into bankruptcy, and went automatically to drink what 
must by then have been the very bitter waters of Tunbridge Wells. 
Pain racked his body, and this time there were those who said 
that Mr. Handel was going mad. 

But again he disappointed his enemies. He rose triumphant to 
scourge the Stuart uprising the sad lost cause of the Young Pre- 


tender in the vengeful strophes of the Occasional Oratorio, and a 
little more than a year later he hymned the victor of Culloden with 
a masterpiece, Judas Maccabaeus. It would take a Jesuit to find any 
real resemblance between the noble hero of the Maccabees and the 
bloody Duke of Cumberland, the butcher who had finally saved 
England from the Stuarts. Nor is there any reason to suspect that 
Handel saw any resemblance. However, in the stirring chorus 
"Glory to God/' the old composer rose loftily to the patriotic 
demands of an England that had treated him shabbily for years. 
And Judas Maccabaeus, with its intensely expressed national feeling, 
turned the English into true if tardy Handelians, and so they have 
remained ever since. 

Because Judas Maccabaeus was the first Jewish figure to be 
represented favorably on the English stage, the Jews crowded 
Covent Garden during the entire run of the oratorio. Handel's 
fortunes were completely rehabilitated, and as a grateful compli- 
ment to his new patrons (as well as what he thought was a shrewd 
business move), the rest of his oratorios, except one, were based on 
stories from Jewish history and legend. The writing of these took 
most of his creative energy from the summer of 1747 to that of 
1751. Although he did not hit another real winner until Jephtha, 
the last of these, every one of them, with the possible exception of 
Alexander Balus, contains melodies and choruses of enduring 
beauty. Joshua has the lyric "Oh, had I Jubal's lyre," Susanna the 
exquisitely tender "Ask if yon damask rose be fair," and Jephtha 
the perennial favorite, "Waft her, angels. 35 Such instances could be 
many times multiplied. Handel himself said that the chorus "He 
saw the lovely youth," from Theodora, was the finest he ever com- 
posed, and complained bitterly that the oratorio was not better 
attended. "There was room enough to dance there when that was 
performed," he declared. George II remained faithful, but so little 
social importance attached to his person that often he was almost 
alone in the theater. 

But if London was cold to these novelties from the pen of its 
aging musical arbiter, it lined his pockets* when he revived those 
works which were already on their way to becoming staples of the 
English fireside. Hercules, now gone from the repertoire, was a 

* In his otherwise simply appointed house in a fashionable section, Handel col- 
lected some fine paintings, including several Rembrandts. 


jreat favorite in the eighteenth century. Judas Maccabaeus by itself 
made a fortune for Handel. But Messiah, the history of whose popu- 
larity is still being written, eventually outstripped its rivals, even 
iuring his lifetime. Things came to such a pass that it was almost 
accessary to declare a national holiday when Mr. Handel, seated in 
majesty at the organ, conducted his masterpiece. 

But the phenomenal vitality that had driven this mighty engine 
for sixty-four years was beginning to dry up. Gout tortured 
Handel's massive body, and every motion was agony. His sight 
was failing rapidly. Early in 1749, the King asked him to perform 
what proved to be his last official duty the composition of music 
for a celebration of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. The result was 
the celebrated Firework Music. When it was rehearsed in Vauxhall 
Gardens on April 2 1 , over twelve thousand people paid two shill- 
ings sixpence each to hear it, and held up traffic over London 
Bridge for three hours probably the most stupendous tribute any 
composer ever received. The performance, six days later, was even 
more spectacular.. A fantastic victory temple was erected in the 
Green Park, a noted French pyrotechnician was employed to 
devise the fireworks, 101 brass cannon were provided for the royal 
salute, Handel was given a band larger than a modern symphony 
orchestra, and the bill, for .everything was handed to the Duke of 
Montagu, who died three months later. In fact, everything was 
done to hide the truth that the Peace of Aix4a-Chapelle was an 
empty victory for England. All London was crowded into the 
Green Park: the little brass cannon roared, the fireworks fizzled, 
and finally the victory temple burst into flames. The one un- 
questioned success was the music. 

The Firework Music ranks just below the Water Music, which it 
strongly resembles, with its emphatic rhythms and noisy, eloquent 
brasses, though here, as always, Handel knew how to ring the 
changes on his own quotations. The idyllic largo, which he called 
La Paix, breathes the very essence of a world into which peace has 
come. Both the Firework and Water suites, so admirably scored for 
open-air performance, evidence Handel's delicate sense of acoustics. 
-.In May, 1749, Handel repeated the Firework Music in the first 
of those charity concerts which have ever since linked his name in- 
extricably with that of the Foundling Hospital. The next year he 
began the famous annual series of benefit performances of Messiah, 


the proceeds of which never less than 500, and once as much as 
1000 likewise went to the Hospital. His last years were spent in 
thinking up ways of helping this favorite charity, to which he 
willed a copy of Messiah, and he served as a governor of the insti- 
tution for many years. As Hogarth was likewise a governor, the 
Foundling Hospital was served by the two greatest geniuses in 

In August, 1750, Handel made his last trip to the Continent. He 
was sixty-five years old, and must have wanted to see the scenes of 
his childhood for the last time. Just outside The Hague his coach 
overturned, and he was severely injured. After convalescing, he 
proceeded to Halle, where he found Wilhelm Friedemann Bach 
whose illustrious father had died only a few months before pre- 
siding in Zachau's place at the Liebfrauenkirche organ. Handel 
was soon back in London. At first he was too sick to work, but in 
January began to compose his last oratorio, Jephtha. While he was 
working on the final chorus of the second part, "How dark, O 
Lord, are Thy decrees," he received the first serious warning of 
impending blindness. Despite the ministrations of three doctors, 
his sight grew dimmer rapidly, and on January 27, 1753, the 
Theatrical Register told the tragic outcome: "Mr, Handel has at 
length, unhappily, quite lost his sight." Rather confused records 
suggest that John Taylor, who did his worst on Bach, also operated 
unsuccessfully on Handel's eyes.* 

Handel the composer was through. But though the creative 
spark was extinct, the old man did not give up. He was the greatest 
of living organists, and almost until the last day of his life con- 
tinued his wonderful virtuoso performances. In 1753 he played 
all of his organ concertos from memory. Year after year he revived 
his oratorios to packed houses, conducting and accompanying 
them at the organ. At last, after years of disappointment and bad 
luck, he had acquired the touch of Midas. Better still, he was loved 
by all London: by 1759 the figure of this enormously fat old man, 
scarcely able to walk a step unassisted, seemed almost as much 
part of the landscape as the Tower and Westminster Abbey. He 
celebrated his seventy-fourth birthday in the midst of his most 
successful season. On April 6, with mastery unimpaired, he pre- 

* One eminent authority, however, believes that Handel retained a vestige of 
*s%ht tintil his death. 


sided at a performance of Messiah at Covent Garden. Yet all was 
not well. In one section he faltered, but recovered himself adroitly. 
Scarcely had the final amen been sung when he fainted, and was 
carried to his house in Brook Street. As he lingered in his last 
agony,, he said, "I want to die on Good Friday in the hope of re- 
joining the good God, my sweet Lord and Saviour, on the day of 
his Resurrection." Actually, he died early in the morning of Holy 
Saturday, April 14, 1759. 

Handel had expressed in his will a desire to be buried in the 
Abbey, and his wish was enthusiastically carried out. Six days 
after his death, at eight o'clock in the evening, he was lowered into 
his place among England's great, in the presence of three thousand 
uninvited mourners, while the combined voices of the Gentlemen 
of the Chapel Royal and the choirs of St. Paul's and the Abbey 
sang the dirge. 

The best proof of Handel's unique sovereignty over English 
music was furnished by his posthumous glorification. That at his 
death he was well beloved and greatly honored is unquestioned; a 
few years later, he was a god, or in less pagan parlance, a saint. 
The official canonization took place in 1784, when a five-day 
commemoration was arranged on an unprecedented scale. George 
III, assisted by a committee of noblemen, was the moving spirit of 
the fete, during which Messiah was given twice in the Abbey. So 
elaborate were the ceremonies that Dr. Burney wrote an account 
of them some months later, to which Dr. Johnson contributed the 
dedication to the King. It proved to be the Grand Cham's last 
effort, and before the pamphlet actually appeared he too was dead. 
The Handel Commemoration was the death knell of the eighteenth 
century: even as the mighty amens of Messiah rolled away into 
silence, the first premonitions of the French Revolution were 
rumbling across the Channel. 

Although popular enthusiasm for Handel continued unabated, 
it was not until 1857 the year of the Indian Mutiny that the 
English actually got around to staging the first of the well-known 
festivals that have been the admiration and despair of critics, ac- 
cording to their points of view. The lamentable story of this 
musical elephantiasis can be compressed into the fact that while 
Handel himself presented Messiah with a chorus and orchestra 
numbering about thirty performers each, at recent festivals the 


chorus has swollen to four thousand voices "supported" by an 
orchestra of five hundred pieces. The Gargantuan scale of these 
performances is not so fatal to Handel's intention as the flagrant 
disproportion of the choral and orchestral elements. The directors 
of these festivals, from Sir Michael Costa to Sir Henry J. Wood, 
might well have remembered that Handel himself, supreme 
master of the grand effect, never, except in the single instance of 
the Firework Music an outdoor performance set out to make as 
much noise as possible. 

However, to offset this gaudy festival picture, England boasts 
a thriving and intelligent Handel Society which, since 1882, has 
presented most of the oratorios under the direction of excellent 
musicians. Germany has contributed an edition of Handel edited 
by the great enthusiast Chrysander, which falls short of the mag- 
nificent Gesellschaft Bach, but is nevertheless a monument to one 
man's untiring industry and patient research. In America, how- 
ever, popular knowledge stops short with Messiah occasional 
presentations of a few other works do not alter the fact that 
Handel is, in this country, the most neglected of the truly great 
composers. Bach, now that he is widely known, is unlikely ever to 
give place to another on that high seat to which public esteem has 
exalted him. But the day cannot be far distant when familiarity 
with the manifold facets of Handel's genius will elevate him to his 
rightful place a small step below that of his great contemporary. 

Chapter IV 

Christoph Willibald von Gluck 

(Erasbach, July 2, lyi^November 15, 1787, Vienna) 

THE Renaissance, which invented so many things, also invented 
opera. It all happened quite accidentally. The legend is and 
for once the legend is true that at the dawn of the seventeenth 
century Count Bardi and a group of smart young Florentines, wist- 
ful for the past, decided to stage dramatic adaptations of Greek 
myth as the Greeks had staged Aeschylus and Euripides. They 
fondly believed they had found the Greek formula and who 
knows? maybe they had. Believing that the ancient actors had 
declaimed their lines in a style halfway between speech and song, 
they invented recitative, that is, they guided the rising and falling 
cadences of the players by means of musical notes. Whenever they 
felt inclined to interrupt the narrative, they wrote a set piece either 
for the singing voice or to accompany dancing, which ultimately 
developed into the operatic aria and the operatic ballet respec- 
tively. In the glorious sunset of Italian vocal polyphony, Count 
Bardi's young men showed their independence, and possibly some 
real knowledge of the role and nature of the music used at Greek 
dramatic performances, by adopting a simple homophonic style. 
With doubtless a full appreciation of the many-voiced, ingeniously 
interwoven music Palestrina had lately brought to a triumphant 
maturity, they nevertheless chose the single spare line of accom- 
panied melody. 

A few years after these experiments at the Palazzo Bardi, Claudio 
Monteverdi shrewdly made use of the tentative form that had been 
evolved. He was more talented and resourceful than the first pio- 
neers of opera: several musical ideas that were eventually made 
much of appear in his operas in rudimentary form. He wrote the 
first operatic duet. He even sired a remote ancestor of the Wag- 
nerian leitmotiv. The rest of his technical accomplishments may 
be left to the musical archeologist. What concerns us is that he 
wrote, in both his operas and his madrigals, some music that can 
still be heard by courtesy of something better than mere historical 
curiosity. His U Incoronazione di Poppaea has recently been revived 



with modest success: it is probably the earliest opera to survive the 
discriminating hand of time. 

Until 1637, when the first public opera house was opened in 
Venice., opera was the plaything of the nobility. Then the people 
took it up, and before the end of the century Italy was dotted with 
opera houses. Within a hundred years it became the principal dis- 
traction and besetting sin of the Italians, because it allowed 
such ample scope to the national gift for facile melody. As it in- 
creased in popularity, opera changed its character. Abandoning 
the archaic dramatic gusto of Monteverdi, it tended to become 
prettified and overelaborate a mere showpiece for the fantasti- 
cally flexible voices of the times. This coincided with the discovery 
that castrati, originally used to enhance the sexless character of 
religious music, could outdo even their most spectacular female 
rivals in coloratura tricks. Some of the music written for these 
freak voices is so difficult that it can no longer be sung. By the end 
of the seventeenth century 5 Italian opera had degenerated into a 
contest between rival songbirds, and had lost the little dramatic 
integrity it once had. 

In France, things were no better. Opera, which became the 
vogue under the iron dictatorship of Louis XIV's Italian favorite, 
Jean-Baptiste Lully, did not suffer from the empty contests of cas- 
trati (who never flourished in France), but fell into the hands of 
the masters of stage effects. Lully's operas, which often possess sin- 
gle numbers that are most moving and impressive, are dramatically 
absurd the attention is inevitably distracted by the goings-on of 
the ponderous stage machines. Hannibal crosses the Alps, rivers 
overflow their banks, cities go up in smoke, fountains play; of a 
piece with these bewildering scenic cataclysms, the meaningless 
plot goes cluelessly on. 

Italian opera at its most inane held the rest of Europe in a 
stranglehold. In the German-speaking countries, Italians and Ital- 
ianized natives ground out servile imitations of the Southern pat- 
tern. In England, Purcell, the one man with a marked talent for 
dramatic music, wrote a single opera, and died young. Dido and 
Aeneas had no progeny: the Italians therefore annexed England as 
easily as they had Germany. Handel, complacently accepting the 
conventions of opera as he found it, was not able to beat the Ital- 
ians at their own game. His genius for the dramatic found its 


proper scope only when he abandoned opera for oratorio, in which 
he invented his own conventions. 

It has often been asked why opera, which almost from its incep- 
tion recruited the services of first-rate composers, languished so 
long and so smugly in a state of complete inanity. The answer is 
that its patrons liked it just as it was. Even more than today, the 
opera was then a social affair. People went to see and to be seen, 
to watch the amazing stage business as children watch a circus, 
and to take sides in the quarrels between rival castrati and prima 
donnas. The noble and the moneyed sipped beverages in their 
loges, diced, or played cards, and discussed politics. The famous 
President de Brosses considered the opera merely a distraction 
from a too great passion for chess. These much admired eighteenth- 
century bluestockings and philosophes turned their languid atten- 
tion to the stage only when some unwieldy engine was erupting 
over a papier-mache Pompeii, when a Faustina or a Farinelli was 
carrying a tortuous roulade beyond the compass of the human ear, 
or when a hummable tune they already knew from a dozen previ- 
ous operas was being resung. With such excellent diversions, why 
should operagoers have ever asked for anything more? As a matter 
of fact, they eventually got something more not because they asked 
for it, but because the feeble protests of a few musical progressives, 
hitherto lost in the din of rattling chessmen, grinding wheels, and 
screeching sopranos of both sexes, finally found, in Ghristoph 
Willibald von Gluck, a champion with vigor and genius. 

Gluck's vigor is easier to account for than his genius: his par- 
ents came from peasant stock with a long tradition as upper serv- 
ants to the nobility. They were of mixed German and Bohemian 
blood. The father was a forester, and seems to have been in much 
demand, for he was constantly on the move. Until his eighteenth 
year, when he went to Prague, Gluck led a more or less outdoor 
life, picking up scraps of education where he could. Of his youth 
nothing beyond the usual assortment of cut-and-dried conjectures 
is known. It is not even certain what he did in Prague outside of 
supporting himself by giving music lessons and playing the organ, 
but it is fairly obvious that he had already acquired a haphazard 
musical education. Also, in Prague he must have heard opera, par- 
ticularly the works of the most popular composer of the day 
Johann Adolf Hasse, the fortunate husband of the lovely Faustina, 


These slick musical nosegays, the favored vehicle of the peerless 
castrato, Farinelli, made a deep impression on Gluck. 

In 1736, Gluck went to Vienna, where he was received into the 
palace of Prince Lobkowitz, his father's liege lord, as a chamber 
musician. In the capital he was exposed to nothing but Italianate 
music, and within a year was off to Milan in the private orchestra 
of a Lombard noble of exalted rank. Here he took what were prob- 
ably his first serious musical lessons from Giovanni Battista Sam- 
martini, who has come in for a lot of jingoistic praise in recent 
years as a precursor of Haydn who, though invariably generous 
in his estimates, summed him up as a c "bungler." The effect on 
Gluck of Sammartini, primarily an instrumental composer, was 
rather enigmatic: after studying with him for four years, Gluck 
wrote his first opera, Artaserse, to some shopworn doggerel by Metas- 
tasio, the busiest librettist of the age. The music is lost, yet it is 
easy to imagine what it must have been like not too good an 
imitation of Hasse further obscuring the tortuosities of a long and 
rambling libretto. But it got Gluck a big following, and he found 
in it the idiom he was to use more or less unquestioningly for the 
next thirty years. 

By 1 745 Gluck had composed ten operas, all of which were en- 
thusiastically received by the uncritical Italian audiences. They 
contained no hint of any dissatisfaction with the established mode 
of writing opera. Only one of them, Ipermestra, survives in entirety, 
and it shows the feebleness of the technique he was content to use. 
Yet his fame spread widely, and late in 1745 he was invited to 
London to compose operas for the Haymarket Theater. If the 
noble lessee of the Haymarket hoped that Gluck would initiate a 
renascence of Italian opera in England, he was sadly mistaken. 
Gluck 3 s stage pieces were too wishy-washy for the sharpened taste 
of London audiences, used now to the richer diet of Handel's great 
oratorios. Tovey flatly says, "Gluck at this time was rather less 
than an ordinary producer of Italian opera," and there is no mys- 
tery about his failure in England. 

Handel received Gluck with bearish good humor, and roughly 
consoled him for his ill fortune, remarking cynically that he had 
taken too much trouble for English audiences, who understood 
music only when it sounded like a big drum. But this was Handel 
in one of his notorious half-truthful moods, and he was probably 


being as serious as when he said, "Gluck knows no more counter- 
point than my cook." (The cook, incidentally, was an excellent 
bass singer, who had appeared successfully in many of Handel's 
operas, and was doubtless harmonically aware.) But there was a 
deep truth underlying Handel's flippancy: Gluck was always tech- 
nically insecure, and even years later, after he had mastered the 
fundamentals of his mature style, his technique often limped be- 
hind his intentions. 

Up until his London visit, Gluck's success had been so uniform 
that he had had no reason to examine the esthetic bases of his art. 
He was a shameless writer of pasticci, those monstrous hashes made 
up of pieces taken from older works and set to a new libretto. But 
he took HandePs criticism to heart, and his failure with London 
audiences gave him even greater pause. The man's complacency 
was jolted. He reacted characteristically: endowed with a keen 
mind, he was slow on the uptake, and had to mull ideas over for 
years before taking action. His bitter London experience and his 
admiration for Handel and, to a lesser degree, for Jean-Philippe 
Rameau, whom he met in Paris at about the same time, influenced 
the forming of his mature style twenty years later. In the mean- 
time, he went on grinding out imitation Hasse that could have 
been produced by a man who never stopped to think at all. 

Until 1761 that is, for more than fifteen years the history of 
Gluck's mind is one of silent growth, so silent, in fact, that few 
realized that anything at all was happening to him. To all out- 
ward appearance, he continued his humdrum round, turning out 
ephemeral stage pieces of all sorts. His mediocre compositions being 
much in demand, he traveled extensively; at home in Vienna, he 
was often about the court. All this activity was superficial. Actu- 
ally, he was educating himself, pondering the esthetic bases of 
dramatic music, and gradually coming to those conclusions that 
would revolutionize the whole art of opera. He was studying for- 
eign languages and letters, and gaining a working knowledge of 
French by writing opera comique. Finally, he was cultivating an ac- 
quaintance among the cognoscenti. In short, his own innate bent 
toward things intellectual, stultified in his extremely active youth, 
was now asserting itself. 

Even Gluck's choice of a wife reflects his ruling mental passion: 
Marianne Pergin, whom he married in 1750, was no beauty. Their 


marriage, though childless (according to Dr. Alfred Einstein be- 
cause of a venereal infection Gluck had contracted from a wanton 
singer), was apparently happy, doubtless because Frau Gluck was 
something of an Aspasia. One of the few surviving double portraits 
of a composer and his wife shows Gluck and his Marianne at table ? 
enjoying a drink together. His marriage is important from a mu- 
sical point of view mainly because his wife's dowry freed him for- 
ever from money worries, so that when his phlegmatic develop- 
ment was at last consummated, he could write the operas he 
wanted without fear of the economic consequences. 

Gluck shared with Mozart the not very high distinction of re- 
ceiving the Golden Spur, a low-grade papal order. Unlike Mozart, 
who never paraded his insignificant knighthood, he thenceforth 
signed himself Ritter von Gluck. Appropriately, he received his 
Golden Spur not for one of his great operas, but for a tawdry piece 
of musical fustian. It merely happened that Benedict XIV, really 
quite an astute man otherwise, took a fancy to the mediocre opera 
called Antigono. But the Golden Spur was the least important in- 
cident of Gluck's Roman sojourn of 1756, for here he joined the 
circle of Cardinal Albani, and met Winckelmann, the inspired re- 
suscitator of a fake classicism. Even though Winckelmann's Greece 
was unlike anything ever on land or sea, it profoundly attracted 
Gluck. It was a convention of Italian opera to set almost nothing 
but classical subjects, but the classicism of Gluck's mature operas 
shows a glimpse of antiquity that, however distorted, could only 
have come from the epochal Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums y 
which was then being conceived in Winckelmann's gigantic but 
mistaken intellect. 

Gluck is always called the reformer of opera: it is not so well 
known that he first tried his hand at reforming ballet. In trying to 
understand why his first thunderbolt was cast where it was, it must 
be remembered that the date of Don Juan (1761), his great ballet 
and the first of his mature works for the theater, coincided with 
Noverre's impassioned plea for a reformed ballet. This noted French 
dancer and ballet master, while revolutionizing the actual tech- 
nique of ballet dancing, wanted dramatic music and eloquent 
action. Anyone who has suffered through that long-drawn-out 
Chopinesque swoon known as Le$ Sylphides can understand what 
Noverre was up against. Although he did not dance in it, and in 


fact had nothing to do with it, Don Juan effectually answered his 
plea. To start with, the librettist-choreographer had cleverly retold 
Moliere's Le Festin de pierre in danceable terms. With a suddenness 
that has led many to the improbable conclusion that he changed 
overnight, Gluck produced music showing that the ideas which 
had been brewing so long in his mind had at last fermented. He 
went far toward making the music and the story one, mainly by 
throwing overboard the meaningless conventions that had been 
the curse of ballet music. Almost for the first time in its history, the 
stage had recruited a composer willing and able to place his brains 
as well as his purely musical talents at its disposal. 

Having experimented successfully with ballet, Gluck turned back 
to opera. Hitherto he had set little else than Metastasio, whose 
librettos had not only cornered the market, but were used over and 
over again. But with their tortured conceits and lifeless artifice, 
these were not suitable for the musical dramas Gluck was con- 
templating. At this juncture, Raniero da Calzabigi, one of Metas- 
tasio's most outspoken critics, turned up with the right sort of 
libretto. The initiative for this happy collaboration came from Cal- 
zabigi, and there are writers who believe that he, rather than 
Gluck, should be credited with the reform of opera. But it is not 
reasonable to assume that in 1762, when Gluck wrote Orfeo ed 
Euridice, he should suddenly have pulled an eminently successful 
dramatic opera out of the blue: Calzabigi merely touched fire to 
well-seasoned kindling. 

Orfeo ed Euridice, while retaining much of the old-style diction, 
departed from Metastasio in telling a simple story in dramatic 
terms. The sweet singer Orpheus mourns his dead wife, Eurydice; 
the gods permit him to bring her back from the Elysian Fields if 
he will not look at her before they reach daylight. But Eurydice's 
pleadings force him to break his vow, and she dies again. In de- 
fiance of the classical legend, Calzabigi then has Amor restore her 
to life, and the opera ends happily, not without loss of dramatic 
verity. Care has been taken to give each character music that 
really expresses him music that subtly changes with each new 
situation. But we must listen carefully to realize that we are hear- 
ing dramatic music must listen with innocent ears. We must not 
expect to hear the protagonists shouting at the top of their voices 
as in Wagner and Strauss. This is drama as the ancients knew it 


decorous, stylized, restrained. We must discard temporarily the 
conventions of modern music drama, and judge Orfeo ed Euridice 
and Gluck's five other masterpieces within the framework of their 

But to respond to the purely musical charm of Gluck no such 
adjustment is needed. Orfeo is an excellent introduction to the 
greater Gluck. Unfortunately for him who is being introduced to 
this noble style, however, it opens unpromisingly with one of 
Gluck' s dullest overtures, anything but expressive of what is to 
follow. But after the brief first act comes a scene Gluck never sur- 
passed in dramatic intensity: Orpheus, finding his way to the Ely- 
sian Fields blocked by a chorus of Furies, pleads with the infernal 
sentinels to allow him to pass. As his ineffably poignant song pro- 
ceeds, they interrupt him with shouts of "No!" The exquisite 
strains reduce even them to submission, and the gates open. Al- 
most immediately, before the spell of this superb scene has worn 
off, we hear the serene and solemn "Dance of the Blessed Spirits," 
the most affecting music Gluck ever composed for instruments 
alone. The thin, pure line of the flute achieves a particular kind of 
magic here the essence of that fabled "peace which passeth all 
understanding" that is unique in the whole realm of music. Here 
Gluck, whose gifts are not always purely musical, stands on the 
loftiest heights with the very greatest of the masters. 

After the two magnificent scenes of the second act, almost any 
third act would have seemed flat. Orfeo's suffers undeservedly both 
from its position in the opera and from the fact that the libretto 
trails off into an absurd, tacked-on happy ending. Gluck might 
better have rung the curtain down as Eurydice dies except for 
one thing: the deathless aria Che faro senza Euridice. By modern 
standards, this is not a very dramatic aria: measured, for instance, 
against the Liebestod, it sounds lyric rather than dramatic. The 
point is that sung in the proper tempo,* and by a real artist, it is 
irresistible, and seems the only possible expression of Orpheus' 
grief. As Alfred Einstein has well said, "It is devoid of pathos be- 
cause ... it transcends all expression." After this great melody 
has been sung, those who have the heart may remain to witness, in 

* Gluck himself admitted that taking the aria at a wrong tempo would reduce it to 
a merry-go-round tune, and critics, enlarging on this point, have said that taken a 
shade faster, it might better be sung to joyful words "I've found my Eurydice," 
for example. 


the concluding ballet and general jollification, the very inanities 
against which Gluck had struck the first blow in this selfsame opera. 

Orfeo ed Euridice was first produced at Vienna on October 5, 
1 762. It was received coldly, but within a year a strong reaction in 
its favor set in. By 1764 it had become so popular that it was used 
at the coronation of the Archduke Josef as King of the Romans at 
Frankfort, where the young Goethe, who was on hand for the 
ceremonies, heard it. It brought Gluck so much money that in the 
same year he was able to give up the position of Hqfkapellmeister 
Maria Theresa had conferred on him ten years before. He raised 
his style of living, moving from a comfortable but unpretentious 
house into a splendidly appointed one in a fashionable quarter of 
Vienna. Now, instead of taking the next logical steps after Orfeo 9 
Gluck immediately reverted to the old-fashioned opera, and even 
gave Metastasio a special order for a libretto. For the next five 
years Gluck served up silly confections and gave singing lessons at 
court, one of his pupils being the young Archduchess Marie 

In 1766 Gluck began to write Alceste to a Calzabigi libretto. By 
examining the probably ghostwritten dedication, we can see that 
Gluck had not wasted the years since Orfeo: he had raised his 
previously nebulous feelings about operatic reform to the con- 
scious level. This brief revolutionary manifesto is one of the most 
important documents in musical history. "My purpose," he writes 
firmly, "was to restrict music to its true office, that of ministering 
to the expression of the poetry, and to the situations of the plot, 
without interrupting the action, or chilling it by superfluous and 
needless ornamentation." And further, "I thought that my most 
strenuous efforts must be directed toward a noble simplicity, thus 
avoiding a parade of difficulty at the expense of clearness. I did 
not consider a mere display of novelty valuable unless naturally 
suggested by the situation and the expression, and on this point no 
rule in composition exists that I would not have gladly sacrificed 
in favor of the effect produced." 

Gluck carried out these ideas in Alceste with such relentless logic 
that he all but alienated the world of Vienna, where it was first 
produced on December i6 3 1767. The plot was even more stark 
than that of Orfeo: King Admetus must die unless he can find a 
substitute; Alcestis, his wife, offers her life for his, and Admetus 


recovers. When Alcestis dies, Admetus prepares to kill himself. 
Apollo appears, and revives Alcestis. This story offered situations 
more dramatic than those ofOrfeo, and Gluck fully exploited them. 
The overture marks another step in his reform. In the dedication 
he had written, "My idea was that the overture should prepare 
the spectators for the plot to be represented, and give some indica- 
tion of its nature. 39 This the Alceste overture, with its slow, solemn, 
and elevated cadences, does perfectly. While the necessity of an 
appropriate overture has long been a commonplace of opera, it 
must be borne in mind that previous to Alceste most overtures had 
been mere irrelevant curtain raisers. Even before this one melts 
into the first scene, the curtain is up. Besides the overture, only 
two excerpts can be familiar to even the most faithful concert- 
goers. The first is Alcestis' grand scene of renunciation in the first 
act "Divinitis du Styx,"* which by its nervous, sensitive changes of 
tempo exquisitely mirrors the heroine's shifting emotions. The 
other is Saint-Saens' potpourri of ballet tunes from the opera, 
which was yesterday a hackneyed stand-by of pianists of recital 
and subrecital stature. 

Like Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste got a chilly reception at the pre- 
miere. Probably voicing the consensus, one member of the audience 
said, "For nine days the theater has been closed, and on the tenth 
it opens with a Requiem." Everybody was annoyed with Gluck: 
his confreres resented his attack on their style of opera; the singers 
were vexed because this unadorned music gave them no chance to 
display their incredible agility, and the audience was bored be- 
cause it could not hear the singers exercise. Gluck 5 s patrons trickled 
away: scarcely anyone encouraged him to persist in his great effort 
But he had found his m6tier and he was a very stubborn man 
when he finally made up his mind. Even as his critics and enemies 
multiplied, he turned once more to Calzabigi for the libretto of an 
opera that would shock them even further. 

Paride ed Elena is not the best of Gluck's operas, but it is in one 
sense the most dramatic. Or at least Calzabigi and Gluck intended 
it to be. The dramatic crux is the conflict, or antithesis, between 
two civilizations, the Spartan and the Phrygian. Helen is a pure, 
high-minded, and chaste Grecian maid, Paris a voluptuous and 
impulsive Trojan youth. The librettist even altered the legend, 

* The opening words of the aria in the later French version of Alceste. 


making Helen Menelaus' fiancee rather than his wife, in order to 
make her more than ever a goody-goody. Unfortunately, the ac- 
tion does not measure up to the grandiose scheme of racial con- 
trast. As Cupid promises Helen to Paris early in the first act, the 
only reason her four acts of prudish protest are not anticlimactic is 
that the opera has no climax. The music, by its finely drawn con- 
trasts, partly saves the stupid plot. The alternation of numbers in 
varying modes is highly effective, and the love music is, for Gluck, 
convincingly erotic. Paris' passionately yearning "0 del mio dolce 
ardor" still a prime favorite in the recital haU, is one of the great 
love songs of all times, but it is a pity that in this long five-act opera 
the musical climax should occur in the first act* 

Considering its palpable defects, it is no wonder that Paride ed 
Elena was a failure. Gluck made matters worse by defying public, 
colleagues, critics, and singers in another dedicatory blast. After 
defending Alceste and calling its detractors pedants, he flings down 
the gauntlet: "I do not expect greater success from my Paride than 
from Alceste.) at least in my purpose to effect the desired change 
in musical composers; on the contrary, I anticipate greater op- 
position than ever; but, for my part, this shall never deter me 
from making fresh attempts to accomplish my good design." And 
he winds up this dedication to the Duke of Braganga with the 
courtierlike avowal that he is ready to take it on the chin from 
the general public so long as he has one Plato to encourage 

In reality, Gluck was bitterly disappointed at the public's apathy 
and open hostility. Nor were his feelings assuaged when Calzabigi 
generously shouldered the blame for Paride ed Elena. But whereas 
Calzabigi had won his own battle diminishing Metastasio's 
predominance Gluck had reached a stalemate. After 1 770, when 
Paride was first produced, it became obvious to him that Vienna 
was invincible in its stupidity. He then began to look toward Paris, 
which had already been put in a receptive mood by the declama- 
tory style of Rameau. So seasoned a courtier as Gluck had no 
difficulty in pulling the proper wires, and we soon find him on the 
friendliest terms with the Bailli du Rollet, secretary of the French 
embassay in Vienna. In the back of his mind was the fact that his 
former pupil was now the pampered and all-powerful wife of the 
Dauphin Louis. 


Du Rollet, besides being a first-rate wangler, also had literary 
ambitions, which the politic Gluck was pleased to further. The 
Frenchman now became his librettist, presenting him in 1 772 with 
Iphigenie en Aulide, a curious hodgepodge of Racine, legend, and 
Du Rollet. Gluck started to work on this at once, and by the end 
of the year the collaborators prayerfully forwarded the first act to 
Antoine d'Auvergne, a director of the Opera. D'Auvergne an- 
swered at once, saying that he would like to produce the opera, 
but would do so only if the Chevalier Gluck would undertake to 
write five more operas for him. By these exacting terms he doubt- 
less hoped to deter a man who was almost sixty years old. On the 
other hand, the reason he gave for the proviso that one Gluck 
opera would drive all competitors from the stage was so flattering 
to the composer's thirsting ego that he. decided to force the issue. 
Realizing that he was too old to guarantee five more operas, he 
induced Marie Antoinette to command the staging of Iphigenie en 
Aulide. His royal friend did her work so well that by the end of 
1773 he received an invitation to come to Paris to direct the opera 
on his own exceedingly favorable terms. 

Early in 1774, Gluck and his wife, with his highly talented niece, 
whom they had adopted some years before, set out for Paris. They 
stopped in Karlsruhe to visit the poet Klopstock, then at the height 
of his fame, and by early spring were in the French capital. Gluck 
worked himself to a shadow during the rehearsals of Iphigenie: 
there were all the usual difficulties with singers, orchestra, and 
managers, and on several occasions Marie Antoinette had to soothe 
ruffled feelings all round. The peerless Sophie Arnould, who was to 
sing Iphigenia, was so intractable that once Gluck threatened to 
return to Vienna if she did not follow instructions. But ultimately 
all obstacles were overcome: the most dangerous critics were pla- 
cated in advance, and even the savage Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for 
long the champion of Italianate opera, was won over by carefully 
directed flattery. 

On April 19, 1774, Iphigenie en Aulide was produced at the Op6ra. 
Gluck must have risen to conduct with a mind full of doubts and 
questions. Would Arnould, as usual, sing off pitch? Was Legros 
really too ill to do justice to the tempestuous role of Achilles? 
Would the phlegmatic Larrivee, by some miracle, make Agamem- 


non come to life? During rehearsals Gluck had torn his hair as 
Larrivee listlessly walked through the part, but the baritone had 
said loftily, "Wait till I get into my costume you won't recognize 
me then." But when, at dress rehearsal, Larrivee was as wooden as 
ever, Gluck had called out, "Oh, Larrivee, Larrivee, I recognize 
you!" And finally there was the problem of Vestris, le dieu de la 
danse, who had once boasted that the three greatest men in Europe 
were Frederick the Great, Voltaire, and himself. If he had had Ms 
own way, Iphigenie en Aulide would have been more ballet than 
opera. One by one, Gluck had squelched his demands, even refus- 
ing his piteous appeal for a chaconne at the end of the opera. 
"Whenever did the Greeks dance a chaconne?" Gluck had asked 
witheringly. But Vestris was not to be withered. "Oh, didn't 
they?" he replied haughtily. "So much the worse for them!" 

Iphigenie triumphed at once. Despite certain glaring absurdities 
in the libretto, and not a few arid stretches in the music, Paris 
momentarily took the Chevalier Gluck to its heart. At the premiere 
the overture, generally considered the finest he composed, was en- 
thusiastically encored. At one point the music and action were so 
convincing that some hotheaded officers in the audience were 
ready to rush onto the stage and rescue Iphigenia. The score is 
rich almost too rich in fine airs, which sometimes come in clus- 
ters of three, thereby tending to interrupt the flow of the action. 
.Although there were disturbing errors of taste in Alexander 
Smallens' revival some years back of what might more appropri- 
ately have been called Iphigenie en Philadelphie, enough of Gluck's 
intention came through to convince the audience that it was hav- 
ing an esthetic experience of the first rank. The whole effect of the 
opera is one of archaic grandeur, sustained by sculptured declama- 
tion and a loftiness of effect that rarely falters even when purely 
musical inspiration flags. 

The witty Abbe Arnaud had remarked of one bit from Iphigenie, 
"With that air one might found a religion," and, indeed, the 
Parisians were not slow in founding one, its devotees being known 
as Gluckists, though all Paris did not worship at this shrine. Some 
months later, Gluck was ready with a French version of his Orfeo, 
with the hero's part transposed for Legros, a tenor, as there was 
no male contralto to sing the part as originally written. This 


change of key spoiled many of Gluck's finest effects,* but the 
Parisians liked Orphee et Eurydice even better than Iphigenie. On the 
crest of this unflawed success^ with his celebrity growing by leaps 
and bounds, Gluck returned to Vienna to receive from Maria 
Theresa a brevet as court composer. In 1774, at the age of sixty, 
he had become the leading musician of Europe. 

The next year, however, found Gluck in poor spirits. He had 
several important projects under way, one of them a French ver- 
sion of Alceste. He busied himself remodeling two flimsy operas of 
his earlier period. Neither interested the Parisians, though Marie 
Antoinette, now Queen of France, had asked for them. Gluck was 
present when the first of these was given, but he lay perilously near 
to death in Vienna when the other was produced, and so was 
spared a repetition of the bitter spectacle of public apathy. He 
returned to Paris on his recovery, and the following spring was 
recompensed for all his recent disappointments by the success, 
negligible at first, but ever increasing, of the French Alceste. Un- 
happily, in one of his absences from Paris the meddlers at the 
Op6ra commissioned Frangois-Joseph Gossec a young Belgian 
whose fame is kept verdant by an immortal and ninth-rate gavotte, 
and by the fact that he first used the clarinet in a score to write an 
extra character Hercules into the third act of Alceste, where it 
has remained to this day. 

In 1777, Gluck produced Armide, the libretto of which had been 
adapted from Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata by Moliere's collaborator 
and erstwhile rival, Philippe Quinault, for the use of Louis XIV's 
dictatorial favorite, the former Italian busboy, Jean-Bap tiste Lully . f 
Nor had a century on the shelf improved the libretto it was more 
old-fashioned, and certainly just as diffuse. Armida in her magic 
garden is a sort of seventeenth-century Kundry, and her natural 
playmates are demons, knights-errant, warlocks, and fairies. It is 
useless to pretend that Gluck was entirely successful in setting 
Quinault's libretto the bewildering change of scene and the stage 
properties got in the way of the music all too often. Nevertheless, 
though Armide does not hold together, and is less rich in memo- 
rable airs than some of Gluck's other operas, it shows him as not 

* In modern revivals, the role of Orpheus is always sung in the original key by 
a woman. 

f Handel had also used Quinault's libretto for his Rinaldo. 


only a starter but a developer of character. The influential critic, 
La Harpe, entirely missed the point in stigmatizing the part of 
Armida as "a monotonous and fatiguing shriek from beginning to 
end." What Gluck had really done with considerable success was 
to sacrifice purely musical beauty to the demands of dramatic 
characterization a romantic attitude that has found its ultimate 
logic in Strauss 5 Elektra. 

Armide touched off the fuse of the most notorious strife in musical 
history the war between the Gluckists and the Piccinnists. It em- 
broiled everyone in Paris with the exception of Gluck and the 
frightened and confused Niccola Piccirmi, who had originally been 
imported to cross swords with the great Austrian and to add to 
the gaiety of nations. Far too much has been made of this quarrel. 
It is true that all sorts of bigwigs Marie Antoinette, Mme Du 
Barry, Voltaire, and Rousseau were involved in setting the stage 
for the pitched battle, and anyone reading the journals of the time 
would conclude that nothing else was talked of. Actually, the prin- 
cipals refused to fight: Gluck not only scrapped a partially com- 
pleted version of Roland when he heard that the conspirators had 
given Piccinni the same libretto, but consistently refused to admit 
that there was any rivalry between him and the Italian; Piccinni, 
who had his share of talent and taste, was loud in his admiration 
of Gluck. Eventually, however, the unwilling protagonists were 
tricked into setting the same libretto Iphigenie en Tauride. Piccinni 
offered his profound apologies to Gluck, and the whole feud 
shortly died of inanition.* 

Gluck was sixty-five years old when Iphigenie en Tauride, the last 
of his six great operas, was first performed. He was fortunate in 
securing, for this final masterpiece, the best libretto he ever had, 
adapted from Euripides with singular faithfulness by an obscure 
poet, Nicolas-Frangois Guillard. For once, Gluck was freed from 
supplying appropriate music to absurd mythological hocus-pocus. 
The story is refreshingly straightforward: when Iphigenia offers to 
take her brother Orestes 5 place on the sacrificial altar, her nobility 
is rewarded by the gods; she is rescued by Orestes' faithful friend, 
Pylades, and the tyrant who had ordered the sacrifice is slain. Age 
had steadied rather than weakened Gluck's hand, and the only 

* The Gluckists claimed the victory, for Piccinni's setting of Iphigenie en Tauride 
fell far short of Gluck' s as Piccinni was the first to acknowledge. 


criticism of the score (if criticism it be) is that it lacks those catchy 
melodies which have served to keep Gluck 5 s fame alive in public 
esteem. Otherwise the Tauric Iphigenie is the perfect and magnifi- 
cent realization of his operatic theories simple music that effec- 
tively, inevitably clothes the text. His achievement here is all the 
more impressive since several of the most dramatically apt num- 
bers were borrowed from earlier works, borrowed with such nicety 
of discrimination and adapted to their new surroundings with such 
a sure touch as to completely transform them. 

It was this quality of intelligence, of seeing the shape of an opera 
whole, that drove Gluck to the innovations that constitute his 
historical importance. In sheer musical genius he was not meas- 
urably superior to the best of his now forgotten contemporaries, 
except in the few instances when he was carried beyond his own 
powers by the force of the drama. His actual idiom differs but little 
from theirs, and so there is no exaggeration in Vernon Lee's judg- 
ment: c 'Musical style, in its musical essentials, was unaltered by 
Gluck 5 s reforms." His aims were all in the direction of dramatic 
verity and continuity. Stated bluntly, his was a scissors-and-paste 
job: he moved certain elements around, dropped others, and made 
inserts of his own. He saw, for instance, that the time-honored da 
capo aria, with its automatic reprise, was fatal to all dramatic 
movement: he dropped it. He saw that clavier-accompanied reci- 
tative interrupting the orchestral language was quite as fatal to his 
purpose: he dropped the clavier, incidentally creating the modern 
opera conductor, for the clavierist had previously given the beat. 

Iphigenie en Tauride was Gluck' s last success almost his last effort. 
Shortly afterwards, he wrote Echo et Narcisse, and for the first time 
in years, the directors of the Opera, with ominous prescience, 
dared to bargain with him about the price. They were right: Echo 
et Narcisse failed miserably, infuriating Gluck and losing money for 
the management. He would have fled to Vienna at once, but he 
was in bed recovering from a stroke of apoplexy. He was worn out 
from hard work and years of rich food and drink: the lustrous gray 
eyes were dimmed; the brown hair was silvery white, the thick 
bull neck withered, the towering frame stooped. Before reaching 
Vienna, in October, 1779, he suffered several more slight strokes. 

Gluck's last years were uneventful. He had no financial worries: 
not only was his wife wealthy, but he had himself made a large 

GLUGK 101 

fortune. Furthermore, he had his salary as court composer at 
Vienna and an annual pension of six thousand livres from Marie 
Antoinette, which he had been drawing since 1774. He and his 
wife lived happily if rather lonesomely (their adopted daughter's 
death, some years earlier, had affected them both deeply) in a 
spacious house in the Rennweg. They occasionally entertained 
with some splendor: Catherine the Great's son, the future Paul of 
Russia, and his wife called in 1781, and the next year the Mozarts 
dined with them. Nothing resembling the friendship between Mo- 
zart and Haydn resulted, but the two composers genuinely ad- 
mired each other: Gluck listened to Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail 
with sympathetic delight; Mozart haunted the rehearsals oflfkige- 
nie en Tauride (not disdaining to get a few pointers for Don Giovanni}., 
and even composed a set of variations on a Gluck theme. 

Musically, Gluck was all but comatose. He toyed with the idea 
of writing music for one more Calzabigi libretto Les Danaides 
but abandoned it shortly, turning it over generously (but without 
the playwright's authorization) to his protege, Antonio Salieri, 
whom he allowed to announce the work as a joint product of their 
pens. When the opera was a hit, Gluck was even more kind to 
Salieri: he publicly stated that his only share in the work had been 
advice. But when the rightfully indignant Calzabigi protested 
against this highhanded use of his libretto, Gluck was silent. He 
had nothing to say there was no effective defense possible, and 
besides, he was too ill to reply. He now saw no one. Under the 
strictest medical care because of recurring strokes, he was de- 
prived of the last pleasures of the aged. This was worse than death 
to Gluck, and one day when his wife's back was turned, he downed 
a liqueur. Feeling nothing the worse, he went for a drive. Before 
reaching home, he had another seizure, and before the day was- 
over he was dead. It was November 15, 1787, and Gluck was 
seventy-three years old. 

Chapter V 

Franz Josef Haydn 

(Rohrau, March 31, 1732-May 31, 1809, Vienna) 

IN 1795 England was well embarked on that bloody and pro- 
tracted strife with France that was to end on the field of Water- 
loo some twenty years later. It was a black year, characterized by 
bread riots and widespread famine. There were threats against the 
life of the younger Pitt, whose indomitable spirit alone kept the 
war going. In October, a hungry mob howled at poor crazy George 
III on his way to open Parliament. Everyone except the ministry 
wanted peace, and it seemed that the brave English nation could 
think of nothing but its misery. Parliament was the scene of acri- 
monious debate on matters of the gravest import. And yet, at a 
time when the most trivial motion was made a pretext for embar- 
rassing the government in the voting, the battling Whigs and To- 
ries agreed to honor an Austrian* composer's claim for one hundred 
guineas. For the creditor was Franz Josef Haydn, who had lately 
given the people of England such musical fare as they had not en- 
joyed since the days of George Frideric Handel. 

Of course, some of the more old-fashioned squires may have 
muttered that the bill was not in the best of taste. It was well 
known that Herr Haydn had carried away a small fortune from 
the island, not to speak of a talking bird of inestimable value. A 
more fastidious man, going off with such spoils, might well have 
hesitated to bill the royal family for the unique honor of appearing 
at twenty- six command performances. 

But the truth is that the excellent businessman who presented 
the claim was anything but a fastidious gentleman. He was a peas- 
ant, with a peasant's shrewdness and realism about money matters. 
That is the fundamental thing to remember about Josef Haydn, 
Mus. D. (Oxon), Kapellmeister to His Serene Highness Prince 
Esterhazy, and the music that he made. Even in his silkiest peruke 
and most brocaded court suit he never forgot his poor and humble 
origins and, far from trying to gloss them over, proudly described 

* The idea that Haydn had some Croatian blood has now been thoroughly 



Mmself as something made from nothing. His father was a wheel- 
wright, his mother a cook; both families were completely undis- 

Haydn's father lived at Rohrau, in Lower Austria, and there, in 
a poor, almost squalid, house that is still standing, the composer 
was born on March 31, 1732. Both of his parents loved music, the 
father playing the harp by ear. Their leisure hours were often spent 
ringing the local folk melodies that Haydn himself was to use as 
thematic material. The child showed such a lively interest in this 
Tiomemade music, and sang so sweetly, that at the age of six he 
was carried off to near-by Hamburg by a distant relative who 
there served as schoolteacher and choirmaster. His preceptor, 
though unnecessarily harsh, grounded him in the fundamentals of 
violin and clavier, and trained his voice so well that two years 
later, when the music director of St. Stephen's at Vienna was pass- 
ing through Hamburg, and heard Haydn sing, he asked to have 
the boy for his choir. Permission was granted, and Haydn became 
a Viennese at the age of eight. 

So much legend has clustered around Haydn's life in St. Ste- 
phen's choir school that it is no longer possible to disentangle fact 
from fiction. Boiled down to their bare essentials, these often point- 
less stories testify not only to his extreme poverty, but also to his 
intense love of music. The choirmaster, whose sole interest was to 
keep his establishment running on the smallest possible amount of 
money, did little to encourage Haydn's obvious talent. He was a 
cruel and exacting slave driver, and it is amazing that his stern, re- 
pressive measures did not crush the boy's high spirits. There was 
never any love lost between the two, and when Maria Theresa 
complained of Haydn's voice, which was beginning to break, the 
choirmaster was glad to seize upon the first pretext for dismissing 
him. When Haydn was accommodating enough to cut off another 
chorister's pigtail, and was summarily thrown out, the director 
doubtless congratulated himself on having washed his hands of an 
insolent practical joker. 

Thus, at the age of seventeen, Haydn found himself alone and 
friendless in the streets of Vienna. This was not quite so bad as it 
sounds, for though almost a century was to elapse before Johann 
Strauss made Vienna the symbol of Schwarmrei, it was already the 
scene of gaiety and good fellowship. Musicians of all ranks enter- 


tained their patrons and friends with open-air serenades, often, 
scored for full orchestra. Vienna was organized like a luxury liner, 
with half the population devoted to the full-time business of enter- 
taining a benevolently disposed nobility. The streets were full of 
friendly people, who were too busy having a good time to stand on 
ceremony. One of them a tenor with a wife and child met 
Haydn disconsolately roaming about, and generously offered him 
a bunk in his humble attic. For three years Haydn's efforts to stave 
off hunger were no more interesting or distinguished than those of 
any young man in his position: he sang in church choirs, took part 
in street serenades, and helped out the music at weddings, funer- 
als, and other festal occasions. All this time he studied hard: he 
learned theory backward and forward, and practiced the clavier. 
He got hold of six of Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach's clavier sonatas, 
and studied them so thoroughly that they became the backbone 
of his own style. In crystallizing the sonata form, Karl Philipp 
Emanuel had in one respect outdone his illustrious father, who 
evolved nothing, but perfected forms already at hand. Haydn him- 
self, in both his quartets and symphonies, developed the new form 
far beyond anything achieved earlier, but its fundamental archi- 
tecture he owed to the pioneer. Quick to give praise where it was 
due, he freely admitted this debt, and Bach returned the compli- 
ment by proclaiming Haydn his one true disciple. 

Spurred on by his studies in theory and his increasing command 
of instrumental resources, Haydn had begun to compose. Most of 
his very early works, including a comic opera for which he re- 
ceived the splendid sum of twenty-five ducats, are lost. An indif- 
ferent Mass, for which, as one of his firstborn, Haydn had a sneak- 
ing partiality, survives. It must be admitted that these first flights 
add little to his stature as a composer, and at the time added less to 
his purse. He even had to accept menial jobs to make ends 
For several years he gave music lessons to a young Spanish blue- 
stocking whose general education was being supervised by "the 
divine Metastasio." Haydn's meeting with this stuffy but kindly 
old bachelor set in motion a train of events that determined the 
entire course of his life. For Metastasio introduced him to another 
stuffy old bachelor, Niccola Porpora, "the greatest singing master 
that ever lived." Haydn aspired to study with him, but had noth- 
ing to offer in payment except his services as valet and accom- 


panist. Porpora, whose penny pinching was notorious, drove the 
hardest possible bargain. 

Working for Porpora was probably the toughest job Haydn ever 
filled. Porpora was an irascible old man, embittered by his fruit- 
less rivalry with Handel, unsuccessful quest for high preferment, 
and the obvious truth that his great days were mostly behind him. 
Haydn had to bear the brunt of his spleen. But between brushing 
the maestro^ filthy clothes and accompanying the Venetian ambas- 
sador's mistress at her singing lessons, he somehow managed to 
get the information he wanted. George Sand has amusingly em- 
broidered the few facts known about this strange relationship in 
her long but rewarding musical novel, Consuelo. Although Haydn, 
with his usual generosity, admitted his debt to Porpora, it was 
actually less artistic than social through him he met many wealthy 
noblemen and celebrities, among them Gluck, already famous for 
a long series of conventional operas, but not yet embarked on his 
stormy career as a reformer. More important to Haydn was a rich 
Austrian squire, Karl von Fiirnberg. 

Von Fiirnberg, a man of artistic tastes, who entertained lavishly 
at his country house outside Vienna, invited the needy young man. 
to assume the direction of the music at Weinzierl. Haydn accepted 
with alacrity, and in 1755 initiated his long career as a household 
musician. He was at Weinzierl less than a year, but in that brief 
time wrote a series of eighteen pieces for strings, which he labeled 
indifferently divertimenti, nocturnes, and cassations. Basing them 
on the conventional orchestral suite, he gradually refashioned 
them in the light of the formal hints he had taken from the sonatas 
of Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In this way, Haydn slowly made 
something new out of the suite, bringing into being, according to 
the instruments used, his conceptions of the string quartet and the 
symphony. Naturally, he did not effect this transformation at one 
sitting or without getting ideas from other composers: the gap be- 
tween one of the Weinzierl pieces and the "Oxford" Symphony of 
his last period is enormous. He made many false starts (some of 
them delightful) before evolving the four-movement symphony 
and quartet that until yesterday were the formal norms for these 

Haydn returned to Vienna with money in his pocket and pres- 
tige increased. He came perilously near to becoming a fashionable 


singing and clavier teacher. After three years, during which he 
seems to have sacrificed his creative ambitions to ready-money 
teaching and performing jobs, he was rescued by Von Fiirnberg, 
who recommended him to Count Maximilian von Morzin, a Bo- 
hemian grandee who kept a country establishment far beyond his 
means. Von Morzin engaged Haydn as his music director and 
composer at the niggardly salary of two hundred florins yearly 
about $100. His new master kept him a scant two years, during 
which he returned to composition, producing a mass of miscella- 
neous pieces that have mostly been forgotten. 

Now twenty-eight years old, and good Viennese bourgeois he 
had become, Haydn bethought himself of taking a wife. There 
were three stumbling blocks in the way of his marriage: his stipend 
was too meager to support even a frugal bachelor; Count von 
Morzin never kept a married man in his employ, and the girl of 
Haydn's choice a barber's younger daughter entered a convent. 
None of these warnings could shake his determination: he wanted 
to get married, and nothing could stop him. Accordingly, when 
the calculating barber suggested his elder daughter as a second 
choice, Haydn rose to the bait. On November 26, 1760, he led the 
elder Fraulein Keller to the altar. She was three years his senior 
and a highly unreasonable woman. From the beginning, this love- 
less marriage was doomed to failure. Fortunately, Haydn was not 
a very emotional man, and marrying a harridan could not break 
his spirit. There were no children to hold them together, and after 
a few years a separation was quietly arranged, though he con- 
tinued to support her. 

Von Morzin had no opportunity to apply to his musical director 
his odd rule about married men. His creditors denied him that 
luxury. Early in 1761, he was obliged to retrench, and his musi- 
cians were among the first dismissed. Luckily for Haydn, just be- 
fore the collapse Prince Pal Antal Esterh^zy visited Von Morzin, 
and was greatly impressed by Haydn's compositions and by his 
conduct of the band. He at once offered him a place in his own 
musical establishment, and so, when he was dismissed, Haydn 
went almost immediately to the EsterMzy estate at Eisenstadt. 

Haydn was to remain in the service of the Esterhazys until the 
dawn of the nineteenth century. Because of the medieval temper 
of the Hungarian squirearchy, as well as the idiosyncrasies of his 


masters, he was practically a prisoner in the country for almost 
thirty years. Very occasionally, when he had an acute attack of 
wanderlust, he resented this enforced isolation. But he was not a 
man to beat his wings against the bars in senseless fretting he was 
inclined to take life as he found it. As a peasant who had come up 
in the world, homely philosophy was definitely his line, and he 
almost invariably stuck to it. A Beethoven or a Mozart could not 
have brooked the soul-sapping monotony of petty court life either 
they would have revolted by running away, or would have stifled 
their anguish in tragic masterpieces. But Haydn was content, even 
when his fame had spread throughout Europe, to remain the per- 
fect upper servant perfectly performing his daily duties. 

Judged by ordinary standards, Haydn was emotionally a vege- 
table. After leaving Rohrau at the age of six, he seems to have 
displayed only the most perfunctory interest in his parents. Their 
deaths apparently left him untouched. His attitude toward his 
brothers, two of whom were musicians, might be described as one 
of polite interest. As we have seen, his marriage was entered into 
without romance, and turned out a complete failure. He was far 
advanced in his forties before he really fell in love, if indeed such a 
strong term can be applied to his businesslike passion for a young 
married woman, almost thirty years his junior. In fact, Haydn's 
recorded connections with women invariably have a touch of the 
comic about them. 

A clue to Haydn's sparse emotional life is to be found both in the 
wearisome multiplicity of his official duties and in the very quality 
of the vast amount of music he composed. To paraphrase Buffon, 
the music was the man. He was well balanced, genial, sensible, a 
little pedantic, and did not wear his genius on his sleeve. In short, 
just the sort of person to get along with a temperamental master 
and win the affection of his colleagues the perfect Kapellmeister. 
There was something in Josef Haydn that liked being a fun-C- 
tionary : he took even the deification he underwent in his old age as 
the just deserts of a man who had done his job faithfully and well. 

When Haydn first took up his residence at Eisenstadt > he found 
his duties comparatively light. The musical establishment was 
small, and besides, he was at first only assistant Kapellmeister. In less 
than a year, however, Prince Pal Antal died, and was succeeded 
by his more ostentatious brother, who immediately began to ex- 


pand in all directions. His Serene Highness Prince Miklds Jozsef 
Esterhazy of GaHnta, Knight of the Golden Fleece, was known, 
with the curious understatement of the eighteenth century, as "the 
Magnificent." Decked out in his renowned diamond-studded uni- 
form, he would be perfectly at home on a De Mille set. When he 
made his triumphal entry into Eisenstadt after succeeding to his 
resounding title, the festivities lasted a month, and were on an im- 
perial scale. 

But Prince Miklds had something more than a baroque side to 
his nature. Like all the Esterhazys, he loved music, and wanted his 
artists to be the best in Europe. Accordingly, when his old Kapell- 
meister died in 1766, he promoted Haydn to the post. It turned out 
that this was a far more important position than his predecessor 
had held, for Haydn was soon presiding over the musical house- 
hold of the most spectacular country place east of Versailles. In 
1764 the Prince, bored with his two-hundred-room manor at 
Eisenstadt, had begun a vast Renaissance cMteau directly in- 
spired by a visit to Versailles. Whether Prince Miklds actually 
aimed at putting Louis XV's nose out of joint will never be known, 
but it is certain that he dropped eleven million gulden transform- 
ing an unhealthy marsh about thirty miles from Eisenstadt into 
the fairy palace of Esterhaz. The cleverest gardeners worked 
miracles with its unpromising environs, strewing them with the 
elegant commonplaces of eighteenth-century landscaping: grot- 
toes, hermitages, classical temples, kiosks, artificial waterfalls, and 
of course a maze. The park was copiously stocked with game; 
the streams were sluggish with fish. But more important than these 
were the spendthrift provisions for musical and theatrical enter- 
tainment: the opera house accommodating four hundred spec- 
tators and the marionette theater equipped with every imaginable 

As Kapellmeister of one of the most hospitable magnificoes of the 
age, Haydn held no sinecure. The detail work was tremendous, 
and despite his fertility, composing must have taken up only a 
tithe of his time. To get a picture of Haydn's schedule, imagine 
Toscanini composing almost everything he plays, acting as music 
librarian, seeing that the instruments are in repair, and sending 
written reports of his players 5 conduct to the board of directors 
of the National Broadcasting Company. Even when the master was 


away, Haydn had to give two concerts a week to guarantee against 
the musicians absenting themselves without leave, and to keep 
them in concert trim. And when Prince Miklds had a houseful of 
distinguished guests (which was much of the time), Haydn's duties 
kept him on the run from early morning until the last candle was 

Haydn spent almost a quarter of a century at Esterhaz, oc- 
cupying three rooms in the servants* wing. His relations with the 
Prince were as warm as the difference in their ranks allowed. 
True, while still assistant Kapellmeister, Haydn had been repri- 
manded for of all things dilatory attention to his duties. And 
once he made the tactical blunder of mastering the baryton, a kind 
of viola da gamba on which his master fancied himself a virtuoso. 
Instead of being pleased, the Prince was annoyed to find a rival in 
the field. Haydn then showed his native diplomacy by abandoning 
the baryton except to write some two hundred pieces for it, pieces 
carefully calculated not to expose the Prince's limitations. He was 
unfeignedly fond of his patron. After Prince Miklds' death, he 

"My Prince was always satisfied with my works; I not only had 
the encouragement of constant approval, but as conductor of an 
orchestra I could make experiments, observe what produced an 
effect and what weakened it, and was thus in a position to im- 
prove, alter, make additions or omissions, and be as bold as I 
pleased; I was cut off from the world, there was no one to confuse 
or torment me, and I was forced to become original" 

Between Haydn and his musicians the friendliest feelings always 
prevailed. The junior members of his staff, many of whom studied 
with him, were the first to refer to him as "Papa Haydn." In truth, 
he was a father to all his musicians, and was always ready to plead 
their case. One of the more delicate subjects was obtaining leave for 
the men, practically cut off from their families by the Prince's 
morbid affection for Esterhaz. With rare humorous tact, Haydn 
once presented a vacation plea by writing the "Farewell" Sym- 
phony, in the finale of which the men blew out the candles on 
their music stands, and stole out, one by one. Until, as Michel 
Brenet says, "Haydn, alone at his desk was preparing, not without 
anxiety, to go out too, when Nicolas Esterhazy called him and 


announced that he had understood the musicians 5 request and 
that they might leave the next day."* 

But though Haydn and his men craved an occasional vacation, 
life at Esterhaz was not too monotonous, and working conditions 
were for the period excellent. Haydn went to work originally 
for four hundred florins a year, a figure which was almost doubled 
before Prince Miklds died. Considering that he had no personal ex- 
penses, the fact that he saved a mere pittance during a quarter 
century at Esterhaz is eloquent of an extravagant wife. But Frau 
Haydn was not entirely to blame. When the composer was almost 
fifty, he became involved with the wife of one of his violinists. 
Little Signora Polzelli, a vocalist briefly employed at Esterhaz, was 
only nineteen when Haydn met her. She did not love her husband, 
and there is little evidence that she cared for the bluff old Austrian. 
Soon, however, things came to such a pass that the lovers were ex- 
changing pledges that they would wed when death released them 
from their partners. Polzelli died after a polite interval, but 
Haydn's wife was disobliging enough to linger until 1800, at which 
time the now rather faded siren got Haydn to sign a promise to 
leave her an annuity of three hundred florins. Whereupon she 
married an Italian, for the money had been her only object all 
along. Before forcing the promise of an annuity, she had for years 
been milking Haydn, probably on the strength of an old indiscre- 
tion. Only once did he complain, after he had sent her six hundred 
florins in one year. 

The affaire Polzelli seems to have been the only wild oat Haydn 
sowed at Esterhaz. His mere routine duties ruled out excesses; 
the special entertainments for the Prince's eminent guests made 
self-denial mandatory. The gallant Prince Louis de Rohan, later 
the scapegoat of the "affair of the diamond necklace," stopped at 
Esterhaz in 1772, and delighted his host by comparing the cMteau 
to Versailles. The next year, Maria Theresa was entertained at a 
three-day festival, for which Haydn composed the delightful sym- 
phony that still bears her name. And so it went, with the palace a 
scene of constant revelry and music-making. Or Prince Miklds 
might tear himself away from Esterhaz for the pleasure of exhibit- 
ing his band and its increasingly famous leader. Sometimes he 

* In 1939 the Boston Symphony Orchestra, attired in eighteenth-century cos- 
tume, enacted this scene, with Dr, Koussevitzky as Haydn. 


took them to Pressburg, where the Hungarian diet met; one year 
they went to the imperial palace at Schonbrunn, where Haydn 
conducted one of his own operas as well as the music at a state 
dinner. When the Grand Duke Paul of Russia visited Vienna in 
1781, Prince Miklds and his orchestra were on hand. Some of 
Haydn's operas were performed, and the indefatigable Kapell- 
meister composed the six "Russian" Quartets in Paul's honor. The 
Grand Duchess, who was extremely fond of his music, presented 
Haydn with a diamond-studded addition to his already imposing 
collection of royal and noble snuffboxes. 

But infinitely more important than Haydn's contacts with the 
most imposing stuffed shirts of the era was his meeting with 
Mozart. This was more than a mere momentary crossing of paths. 
It was a mutual recognition of genius that affected the work of 
both men, and thus left an imperishable mark on music. Each had 
something of the highest value for the other, and it is no mere 
coincidence that their masterpieces were composed after their 
meeting. They saw each other rarely, but for collectors of great 
moments be it known that on at least two occasions they sat down 
to play quartets together, once with Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf 
and their now forgotten rival, Johann Baptist Wanhal. 

And so the years passed gently over Haydn's head. Suddenly, in 
September, 1790, Prince Miklds died, and the world Haydn had 
known for almost thirty years came to an end. The new Prince, less 
interested in the arts than most of the Esterhazys, disbanded the 
musicians and Haydn, at fifty-eight, was out of a job. This was no 
great tragedy, for his beloved patron had left him an annual pen- 
sion of one thousand florins, to which Prince Antal now generously 
added four hundred more. It might seem that with an assured 
annual income of almost twice his stipend from Prince Miklds, 
Haydn was better off financially than ever. But this was not the 
case. Not only did the bonuses Prince Miklds had given him for 
special compositions cease, but also he was obliged to live at his 
own expense. And life in Vienna, to which he naturally gravi- 
tated, was expensive. On the other hand, his already great fame 
brought many pupils flocking to his door, and considerable sums 
were coming in from his publishers. 

For the man who had once been reprimanded for loafing on the 
job had really produced during his life at Esterhaz a vast body of 


compositions. Unlike Hasse, who may possibly have been cheated 
of immortality when the great Dresden fire destroyed almost all his 
manuscripts, Haydn, though he lost many scores in a fire at Ester- 
haz in 1779, had already published so much that his fame would 
have been secure if he had never written another note. Roughly 
speaking, while there he had composed over twenty operas, about 
ninety symphonies, and more than sixty quartets, besides small 
orchestral works, pieces for clavier and other solo instruments (in- 
cluding a glass harmonica and a musical cloc 1 *), chamber music of 
all varieties, and Masses and other works for solo and concerted 

Almost without exception, Haydn's early vocal works are now 
outside the living repertoire, if, indeed, they were ever in it. Most 
of them were written to be performed at Esterhaz, and were born 
and died there. Haydn himself seems to have had mixed feelings 
about the operas. On the one hand, he could write with naive con- 
ceit to his Viennese publisher: "If only the French could know my 
operetta Ulsola disabitata and my last opera La Fedelta premiatal I 
am sure such works have never yet been heard in Paris, perhaps 
not even in Vienna." The answer is that by 1781, when this letter 
was written, the French and the Austrians had heard far too many 
such operas, and Gluck had already won his battle against them. 
Haydn, who had been taught to write opera according to the old- 
fashioned recipes of Alessandro Scarlatti and Hasse, was in a saner 
frame of mind six years later, when he was invited to compose an 
opera for Prague: 

"You ask me for a comic light opera," he wrote. "Certainly, if 
you are willing to reserve for private use some vocal work of my 
composition. But if it is intended for performance in the theater at 
Prague, then I cannot serve you, for all my operas are written for 
the special conditions of Esterhaz, and could not produce else- 
where the effect I have calculated upon for this setting. It would 
be otherwise if I had the inestimable good fortune to be able to 
compose for your theater upon a completely new libretto. Though, 
there again, I should run too many risks, for it would be difficult 
for anyone no matter whom to equal the great Mozart. That is 
why I wish that all music lovers, especially the influential, could 
know the inimitable works of Mozart with a profundity, a musical 
knowledge, and a keen appreciation equal to my own. Then the 

HAYDN 113 

nations would compete for possession of such a treasure. Prague 
must hold fast so precious a man and reward him. For without 
that, the history of a great genius is a sad one, and gives posterity 
little encouragement to follow the same course. That is why so 
much fine and hopeful talent unfortunately perishes. I am full of 
anger when I think that this unique genius is not yet attached to a 
royal or imperial court. Forgive this outburst: I love the man 
too much." 

Haydn's affection for Mozart was reciprocated. In 1790, when 
he was invited to visit London, Mozart tried to dissuade him from 
going. "Oh, Papa!" he exclaimed (though momentarily he seemed 
like the wise parent), "you have had no education for the wide, 
wide world, and you speak too few languages." 

"My language is understood all over the world," Haydn replied 
dryly. For he was determined to go. Salomon, the London im- 
presario, had suddenly burst in upon him several days before, 
saying, "I have come from London to fetch you. We will settle 
terms tomorrow." That morrow came, and like Satan displaying 
the nations of the world from the mountaintop, Salomon unrolled 
his little plan. Haydn heard, was tempted, and fell. Salomon 
guaranteed him 900 if he would make the trip. The only diffi- 
culty, from Haydn's point of view, was that he had to pay his own 
traveling expenses. However, Prince Esterhazy advanced him the 
money, and after providing for his wife by selling a little house in 
Eisenstadt that Prince Miklds had given him, Haydn set out for 
London in mid-December. Mozart, on hand to see him off, burst 
into tears. "This is good-by," he sobbed. "We shall never meet 
again." And, indeed, before Haydn returned to Vienna Mozart 
was dead. 

At fifty-eight, the composer set out on his travels with the na'ive 
curiosity of a child. The Channel crossing was rough. "I remained 
on deck during the whole passage," he wrote, "in order to gaze my 
fill at that huge monster, the ocean. So long as it was calm, I had 
no fears, but when at length a violent wind began to blow, rising 
every minute ... I was seized with a little alarm and a little in- 
disposition." He landed at Dover, and arrived in London on New 
Year's Day, 1791. He was received like a sovereign prince: his 
fame had been trumpeted before him, and the clever Salomon 
had used the press to raise public interest to fever pitch. His lodg- 


ings were besieged by ambassadors and great nobles, and invita- 
tions came pouring in by the hundreds. The inescapable Dr. 
Burney called, and firmly presented him with an ode of welcome, 
In view of the fact that the terms of his contract called for twenty 
especially written compositions, including six symphonies, he 
finally had to move into the country to elude his pertinacious 
admirers. Unhappily he had arrived in the midst of one of those 
wars of the impresarios in which Handel had received so many 
noble scars, and thus his opening concert was delayed. Slurring 
squibs about him appeared in the newspapers, and doubtless the 
announcement of an actual date for the first concert narrowly 
averted a question being asked in Parliament. 

All criticism was silenced by the overwhelming success of the 
first concert. The adagio of the symphony (now known as the 
"Salomon" No. 2) was encored in those times a rare proof of 
enthusiasm. And when the Prince of Wales appeared like a re- 
splendent apparition at the second concert, the newspapers 
changed their tone. Blending sycophancy with true admiration, 
they now referred to "the sublime and august thoughts this master 
weaves into his works." The shrewd Salomon was assisting at an 
apotheosis. Crowds were turned away from the Hanover Square 
Rooms for every concert, and Haydn's benefit on May 16 realized 
350 almost twice the take Salomon had guaranteed. The first 
week of July, Haydn journeyed up to Oxford (or, as he wrote it, 
Oxforth), which, at Burney's recommendation, had offered him a 
musical doctorate. At the second of the three concerts given there 
in his honor, the lovely symphony in G major he had written some 
years before was performed instead of a new work. Ever since 
known as the "Oxford" Symphony, this delicious musical kitten 
appealed immediately to the lettered dons and young fashionables. 

Haydn was enormously pleased and a bit flustered. After he 
received his degree, he acknowledged the applause by raising his 
doctor's gown high above his head so that all could see it, saying 
in English, "I thank you." He must have been a rather comic 
figure, though he wrote home in great glee, "I had to walk around 
in this gown for three days. I only wish my friends in Vienna might 
have seen me." Like so many famous men, he was decidedly below 
middle height. His thickset, flabby body was carried on absurdly 
short legs. And his face was far from prepossessing, though its fc?- 

HAYDN 115 

tures, except for an underslung Hapsburg jaw, were regular. His 
swarthy skin was deeply pitted by smallpox, and his nose was dis- 
figured by a growth he stubbornly refused to have removed even 
when John Hunter, the ablest surgeon of the epoch, offered to 
perform the operation. Haydn realized that he was ugly, and 
preened himself on the fact that women fell in love with him "for 
something deeper than beauty. 5 ' 

Susceptibility to women as women made Haydn rather un- 
critical of them. One was "the most beautiful woman I ever saw"; 
another, "the loveliest woman I ever saw." These were but 
glances: his affections were directed toward Mrs. John Samuel 
Schroeter, a widow of mature years. What began as music lessons 
ended as something far more intense: she was soon addressing her 
elderly music master as "my dearest love." As for Haydn, he 
cherished a packet of her letters until his death, and once said, 
"Those are from an English widow who fell in love with me. She 
was a very attractive woman and still handsome, though over 
sixty; and had I been free I should certainly have married her." 

It may be that Mrs. Schroeter's matronly charms played their 
part in keeping Haydn in London. At any rate, he dallied there 
until June, 1792 a full year and a half after his arrival and then 
set out for the Continent. He traveled by way of Bonn, where the 
young Beethoven presented himself, and submitted a cantata for 
criticism. Haydn's generous praise may well have spurred Bee- 
thoven to study in Vienna. In December, Beethoven began to take 
lessons from Haydn. From the beginning, they misunderstood 
each other: the young musical rebel puzzled Haydn, while the im- 
patient Beethoven rather unfairly regarded his aging teacher as a 
fogy. Haydn was too old to realize the scope and significance of 
Beethoven's music to him certain aspects of it seemed senseless 
license. But in the course of years, Beethoven came to appreciate 
his teacher's musical genius. Yet, the relationship between the two 
men was nothing more than a protracted casual meeting they 
were never actually friends, and their influence on each other was 
negligible. Beethoven said flatly, "I never learned anything from 

Wanderlust and a dazzling new contract from Salomon 
called Haydn back to England after a year and a half in Vienna. 
He arrived in London in February, 1794, and it is worth recording 


that he carefully chose lodgings near Mrs. Schroeter's house. This 
is the single tantalizing scrap of knowledge preserved about 
Haydn's love affair during this second visit. Warm though London 
had been to him when he first reached England, it now offered 
him an adulation it had lavished on no composer since Handel. 
After six new symphonies had been performed, the public clam- 
ored for a repetition of the first set. His benefit concert netted him 
400. The royal family took him up: George III, whose first 
loyalty to Handel never flagged, was somewhat restrained in his 
ardors, but the Prince of Wales invited Haydn to Carlton House 
twenty-six times. It was for these performances that Haydn pre- 
sented to Parliament his famous bill for the extremely modest sum 
of 100. 

Again Haydn found it difficult to tear himself away: he re- 
mained in England for more than eighteen months, playing the 
social game heavily. During the summer of 1794 he moved lei- 
surely from one spa or country seat to another. His diary is bare of 
references to music: he was much exercised over the character of 
Mrs. Billington, the actress, whose frank memoirs were the current 
scandal. He remarked on the national debt, preserved the Prince 
of Wales' favorite recipe for punch, and looked in at the trial of 
Warren Hastings. Not even the price of table delicacies escaped 
his omnivorous curiosity: "In the month of June 1792 a chicken, 
73.; an Indian (a kind of bittern found in North America), 9 s.; 
a dozen larks, i coron [crown?]. N. B. If plucked, a duck, 5 s." 
Haydn relished a good joke, and the best ones he heard also went 
into his diary. Certain lines about the comparative morals of 
English, French, and Dutch women are too graphic for publica- 
tion. So, busily jotting down fresh items along the way, he returned 
to Vienna early in September, 1795. 

With this second London visit, Haydn wrote finis to his career 
as a symphonist. That career, extending over more than thirty- 
five years, had produced no fewer than one hundred and four sep- 
arate symphonies, many of high quality, but less notable for their 
variety. The fact that his earliest trial balloons are worthless 
museum pieces is easily explained: learning to write for the 
orchestra was to Haydn a slow and painful process completed 
Comparatively late in life, and he had no models. He literally 
evolved the symphony from the orchestral suite and the clavier 

HAYDN 117 

sonatas of Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach by laborious trial and error. 
The wonder is that he found the essential symphonic form as 
quickly as he did: to perfect it (within his recognized limitations, 
of course) took years. For almost a quarter of a century he con- 
tinued to write symphonies for his small court orchestra, many 
of which are delightful and witty, and almost all of which are 
within the same narrow range. Their individuality rests on the- 
matic variety alone. 

The more Haydn's life and compositions are examined, the 
clearer it becomes that Mozart provided the stimulus for his 
emancipation from the stiffness of his earlier manner. The differ- 
ence between even the finest of Haydn's pre-Mozartian sym- 
phonies the "Farewell" and "La Chasse" for example and a 
richly mature work like the "Oxford" is not an obvious one: from 
first to last, the personality of Josef Haydn dominated, and limited, 
his symphonic conceptions. But in the later works this personality 
expressed itself through more ample resources richer orchestra- 
tion and untrammeled handling of musical ideas. With Mozart, 
Haydn finally brought the purely classical symphony as far as it 
could go without becoming something else. In the twelve "Salo- 
mon" Symphonies, the man who evolved a form lifted it to its 
zenith a phenomenon unique in musical history. 

These twelve symphonies owe their supremacy not only to their 
freedom of expression, but also to the fact that they were written 
for the best and largest orchestra Haydn ever knew. It would ap- 
pear pathetically inadequate beside one of the perfectly trained 
and equipped orchestras of our own day, but it was capable of 
effects quite beyond the powers of the little household band at 
Esterhaz. In short, before composing for London, Haydn had 
never had a chance to make the most of his newly discovered 
resources. It is among the more fascinating ifs of musical history to 
speculate on what he might have done if he had had this vastly 
superior organization at his command when he was thirty rather 
than when he was almost sixty. The answer seems to be, on the 
basis of everything known about the composer, that we would 
have many more symphonies as fine as the "Oxford" or the "Salo- 
mon" No. 5, in C minor but nothing different in kind. Haydn 
achieved his ideal of formal perfection, and there is no evidence 
that, in his symphonies at least, he ever wanted anything more. It 


took a restless, eternally dissatisfied temperament like Beethoven's 
to weld the symphony into a tremendous emotional vehicle.* 

The truth is that Haydn's symphonies perfectly express his per- 
sonality and its rather limited outlook. Nobody goes to them for the 
Aeschylean tragedy of Beethoven or the transcendent, unearthly 
serenity of Mozart nor can you wallow with Haydn as you can 
with Tchaikovsky. Haydn is a prose writer, and as such, un- 
equaled. He is the Addison and Steele of music, with the former's 
flawless touch and the latter's robust humor and lustiness of out- 
look. Any one of his great symphonies is the man in small: one and 
all they breathe his sunny disposition, his wit, his irrepressible high 
spirits, and his sane and healthy love of life. When his inspiration 
flagged, his untroubled faith degenerated into smugness, his desire 
for formal perfection into schoolmasterly finickiness. But his best 
symphonies are canticles of life enjoyed to the full works of lively 
beauty that rank just below the best of Mozart and Beethoven. 
"Haydn would have been among the greatest/' Bernard Shaw 
once wrote, "had he been driven to that terrible eminence." 

When Haydn returned to Vienna he abandoned the symphony, 
the form with which his name is most popularly connected. 
He was sixty-three years old, and some of his well-meaning ad- 
mirers had begun to treat him as though he were dead. They in- 
vited him to Rohrau, and showed him a monument to his fame. 
His reaction is not recorded, but he was properly overcome with 
emotion when he visited the house where he had been born. He 
knelt down, solemnly kissed the threshold, and pointing dramati- 
cally at the stove, declared that on that very spot his musical career 
had begun. Despite this premature commemorative service, he 
returned to Vienna, and continued to be thoroughly alive. 

The main reason for Haydn's return from England had been a 
pressing invitation from a new Prince Esterhazy, who wished him 
to resume his old position. Haydn consented, for the duties were 
comparatively light, entailing a few months each year at Eisen- 
stadt, and the composition of some perfunctory occasional pieces, 
notably an annual Mass on the Princess' name day. But now 

* The general lines of this argument are not affected by the recent, and loving, 
exhumation of five typical symphonies of the master's late middle period, ranging 
from 1779 to 1786. Pieced together by Dr. Alfred Einstein from old manuscripts and 
early editions, they were performed for the first time in New York during 1939, by 
the orchestra of the New Friends of Music, under Fritz Stiedry, 

HAYDN 119 

Haydn was so famous that it was he who conferred an honor on the 
Esterhazys, rather than they on him. In fact, excepting Francis II 
and Metternich, he was the most famous living Austrian. It was 
natural., therefore, that in 1797, when the Imperial authorities 
wished to combat revolutionary influences that had seeped into 
Austria from France, they should ask Haydn to help by composing 
an air that could be used as a national anthem. Basing it on words 
by the "meritorious poet Haschka," he not only achieved his am- 
bition of equalling God Save the King he far surpassed it. Gott er- 
halte Franz den Kaiser, musically the finest national anthem ever 
written, served its purpose perfectly until 1938, when it was 
officially superseded by Deutschland uber Alles (to the Haydn 
melody) and the Horst Wessel Song. Haydn's hymn was first sung 
on the Emperor's birthday February 12,1 797 at the National- 
theater in Vienna. Francis II himself attended in state, and on 
the same day it was sung at the principal theaters throughout the 
Empire. It has always been the most popular of Haydn's songs. 
But God Save the King was not the only English music Haydn 
wished to emulate. While in London, he went to a performance of 
Messiah, during which he was heard to sob, "Handel is the master 
of us all." Later he heard Joshua, and was even more moved, say- 
ing to a friend that "he had long been acquainted with music, but 
never knew half its powers before he heard it, as he was perfectly 
certain that only one inspired author ever did, or ever would, pen so 
sublime a composition." Just before Haydn left London, Salomon 
handed him a sacred text originally contrived for Handel partly 
from Paradise Lost and partly from Genesis. A friend of Haydn's 
made a free translation of it, and the composer set to work. "Never 
was I so pious as when composing The Creation" Haydn declared. 
"I knelt down every day and prayed God to strengthen me for my 
task." However, things did not go smoothly. At times the infirmi- 
ties of age dammed up the flow of his creative genius. Like Di 
Lasso in his old age, Haydn began to suffer from melancholia and 
nerves, but he had reserves of peasant energy that the pampered 
Fleming lacked. So he came through with a masterpiece after 
eighteen difficult months. On April 29, 1798, The Creation was first 
produced privately at the palace of Prince Schwarzenburg, in 
Vienna. Little less than a year later, it was performed publicly on 
Haydn's name day March 19 at the Nationaltheater. It was 


an immediate success, and soon was being heard by appreciative 
audiences throughout Europe. Even Paris, which did not like 
oratorio, capitulated. More, the French performers had a medal 
struck in homage to the composer. In England, the work, trans- 
lated back into execrable English, rapidly became a runner-up to 

Time has not been kind to The Creation: it has been all but 
crowded out of the repertoire. There are various reasons for this, 
the main one being the advent of Mendelssohn and his catchy ora- 
torios. Under this onslaught, only a consistently effective work 
could hold its place. The Creation is by no means consistently effec- 
tive. Although "The Heavens are telling" is magnificent choral 
writing, most of the choruses are feeble an inexcusable fault in 
an oratorio. As the musical climax comes in the first third, the 
rest of The Creation., despite scattered beauties, is anticlimactic. 
The exact truth is that after Haydn has created his two main 
characters, he does not know how to make them dramatic. The 
best passages are descriptive & kind of sublime journalism. They 
are usually solos, and lose nothing in being performed alone. 
"With verdure clad'* is one of Haydn's most exquisite inspirations: 
blending simple rapture with a rare contemplative quality, it is 
one of Ms infrequent achievements in musical poetry. Unfortu- 
nately, the fine things in The Creation are scattered too sparingly to 
prevent a performance of the whole oratorio from being a chore to 
the listener. He rises from his seat with the paradoxical feeling that 
he has heard a masterpiece but a very dull one. 

Enormously pleased by the success of The Creation, the un- 
inspired translator who had provided its text began to badger 
Haydn to set another of his adaptations this time of James Thom- 
son's The Seasons. The old man was not too pleased with the pros- 
pect of more work: he was in failing health, and doubted his 
strength to complete another large composition. At last he con- 
sented, and The Seasons was completed in a remarkably short time. 
Yet it is a work of great length, requiring two evenings for an 
uncut performance. Generally, it is not inferior to The Creation. Cer- 
tainly it is far livelier, and the fact that it has had to take a back 
seat is largely due to its comparatively frivolous (and absurdly 
adapted) text, which is less congenial to stuffy, single-minded ora- 
torio societies. Haydn himself recognized the absurdity of the 

HAYDN 121 

German words, and was inclined to regard The Seasons as a step- 
child. He once remarked petulantly to Francis II that "in The 
Creation angels speak, and their talk is of God; in The Seasons no 
one higher speaks than Farmer Simon. 55 

Haydn's attitude to The Seasons was, to say the least, ambiguous. 
Nowhere did he more successfully transmute his lifelong love of 
nature into music. Page after page is inspired by the Austrian 
countryside and the manifold aspects of its life. The vivid de- 
scriptiveness of this music is its most immediately engaging quality, 
and it is no wonder that its early listeners delighted in the literal 
transcriptions of country sounds in which it is rich. But Haydn was 
furious when these mimetic passages were singled out for special 
praise: "This French trash was forced upon me/' he stormed. His 
injustice to this delicious work may be traced to a well-founded 
conviction that the exertion of composing it had finally made him a 
feeble old man. At any rate, his creative life was over. After com- 
posing The Seasons, he dragged out eight years, subsisting on the 
bitter diet of past accomplishments. He lived in a pleasant house 
in the Mariahilf suburb of Vienna, which his wife had fondly 
hoped to inhabit "when I am a widow." Why this woman, who 
was three years Haydn's senior, expected to outlive him is not 
clear. She died in 1800, and her widower lived the rest of his life 
in the Mariahilf house. 

The last years are a constant record of mental and physical 
decline. In December, 1803, Haydn conducted for the last time. 
After that, he was confined to his house by increasing infirmities. 
His already enormous fame became gigantic: people of rank and 
eminence besieged his door; learned organizations and musical 
societies delighted in honoring him. In 1804, he was made an 
honorary citizen of Vienna. When Napoleon's armies occupied the 
city, many French officers called upon him to pay their respects. 
When he was feeling comparatively well, he received his visitors 
warmly, often showing them his medals and diplomas, and ram- 
bling on about his past. But more often than not callers merely con- 
fused and upset him, and his only wish was to be left alone. In 1806 
he took steps to discourage visitors by having a card printed, bear- 
ing a fragment of one of his vocal quartets, with these words: "Fled 
forever is my strength; old and weak am I!" 

During these last years none were more considerate than the 


Esterhdzys. The Prince increased Haydn's pension to twenty- 
three hundred florins annually, and paid his doctor. The Princess 
often called on him. In 1808, four days before his seventy-sixth 
birthday, his admirers wished to make public acknowledgement of 
their affection. Prince Esterhazy's carriage called to take him to 
the University, where The Creation was to be performed. The vener- 
able old man was carried 'into the hall, whereupon the entire 
audience rose. He was very agitated. When Salieri, Mozart's 
famous enemy, gave the sign to begin, the whole house was stilled. 
Haydn controlled his emotions until the great fortissimo on the 
words "And there was light." He then pointed upward, and ex- 
claimed loudly, "It came from on high." His excitement in- 
creased, and it was thought prudent to take him home after the 
first part. As he was carried out of the hall, Beethoven pressed 
forward and solemnly kissed the master's forehead and hands. 
On the threshold, Haydn raised his hand in benediction: he was 
saying farewell to Vienna. 

Haydn lingered another year, growing constantly weaker and 
less and less master of his emotions. On May 26, 1809, he had his 
servants carry him to the piano, where he thrice played the 
Austrian national anthem with remarkable strength and expres- 
siveness. It was his last effort: he died five days later. The French, 
who had again occupied Vienna, gave him a magnificent funeral, 
and Requiems were sung all over Europe. 

Our own time is rediscovering Haydn. He was submerged dur- 
ing the later nineteenth century admittedly a classic, but usually 
kept on the shelf. In view of the fact that practically only his 
"Toy" and "Clock" Symphonies were played, he was in danger of 
being thought of as a children's composer. The renascence of 
chamber music has done much to rehabilitate him. His more than 
eighty string quartets, after decades of neglect, are re-emerging as 
his most characteristic works. They were little publicized during 
his lifetime because of the very circumstances of performance. 
They are much heard now, and a society has been formed to 
record them. They, as much as the symphonies and the fresh and 
delightful piano sonatas, give point to the saying, "Haydn thought 
in sonatas." Possibly we hear Haydn best in the quartets, for they 
are performed today "exactly as he wrote them. By their very na- 
ture, they cannot seem thin, as the symphonies sometimes do to 

HAYDN 123 

ears accustomed to the augmented orchestras of Wagner, Strauss, 
and Stravinsky. Nor have the instruments of the quartet changed 
since Haydn's day, as the piano has. 

Haydn has been called the father of instrumental music, which 
is true in spirit if not in entire substance. His almost unique ability 
to create and perfect musical forms was due largely to his freedom 
from academic dead letter. "What is the good of such rules?" he 
once asked. "Art is free, and should be fettered by no such me- 
chanical regulations. The educated ear is the sole authority on all 
these questions, and I think I have as much right to lay down the 
law as anyone. Such trifling is absurd; I wish instead that some- 
one would try to compose a really new minuet." This liberalism 
infuriated some of Haydn's pedantic colleagues, two of whom once 
denounced him to the Emperor as a charlatan. But he was a pro- 
found student, and as careful a craftsman as ever lived. When his 
strength no longer matched his inspiration, he lamented to the 
pianist Kalkbrenner, "I have only just learned in my old age how 
to use the wind instruments, and now that I do understand them, I 
must leave the world." 

This free and living attitude toward music is central in Haydn. 
It allowed him, for example, to use the rich store of folk melody 
always available to him, and to use it without scruple Bee- 
thoven's debt to him in this respect has not been sufficiently 
acknowledged. It allowed him to perpetuate the robust jokes of 
the period not only in his diary, but also in his music. It allowed 
him to breathe life into the form that Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach 
had left quivering on the brink of being, and to stamp it with the 
three-dimensioned qualities of a generous and glowing personality. 

Chapter VI 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

(Salzburg, January 27, lysG-December 5, 1791, Vienna) 

WHEN Mozart was born, Johann Sebastian Bach had been dead 
six years, and before he was four years old Handel, too, had 
vanished from the scene. In his Neapolitan retreat, Domenico 
Scarlatti was gambling away the last years of his life. The great 
musicians of the age of Bach and Handel were either dead or, like 
Rameau, were no longer producing work of any consequence. Nor 
had most of their successors shown what they could do. Gluck, at 
forty-two, was diligently imitating the Italians, and had not yet 
begun his reform. Haydn was still a dark horse: if he was known at 
all, it was as the accompanist of a popular Italian singing teacher. 
But the sonatas of Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach had already been 
published, and these were to be the patterns after which the great 
instrumental masterpieces of the late eighteenth century were cut. 

The age of the baroque was passing, and a more delicate and 
fantastic style was taking its place. The rococo is merely the 
baroque seen through the wrong end of a telescope, and with a 
great deal of superimposed ornamentation. It lay lightly but 
tenaciously on architecture and decoration for some decades, 
affecting them profoundly, and also coloring modes and manners 
and the other arts. Artifice was the keystone of the whole pre- 
posterous structure: chinoiserie, jewelers' whims, plaster scrollwork, 
exquisite cabinetmaking, theatrical church fronts, and coloratura 
roulades were accepted as proofs of civilization. Petty princes 
feverishly transformed their capitals into monstrous jewelboxes, 
and none sparkled more brilliantly than the home of the pleasure- 
loving Archbishops of Salzburg. No more appropriate birthplace 
could have been found for that new extravagance of the eighteenth 
century the child prodigy. 

The childhood of Mozart is one of the masterpieces of the rococo. 
His loving but ambitious father raised him on the principle that he 
was a performing bear: from his sixth year he was dragged over 
the map of Europe, and exhibited as a marvel which, indeed, he 
was. Great monarchs made much of him, and by the time he was 



fourteen he had seen the interior of every palace from London to 
Naples. His amazing virtuosity and facile improvisations made 
him the wonder of the age. The boy's compositions were so re- 
markable that skeptics accused his father of having written them. 

Mozart's early passion for music cannot, like Bach's, be traced 
to a long family tradition. Leopold Mozart, his father, was the first 
of an obscure family of country bookbinders to forsake the an- 
cestral craft. Settling in Salzburg, he had by dogged determination 
risen to be fourth violinist in the Archbishop's band. Also, being a 
fine figure of a man, he managed to secure a pretty wife. He was 
well liked, and the year after Wolfgang Amadeus was born, be- 
came court composer to the Archbishop, Sigismund von Schratten- 
bach. The Mozarts had seven children in all, but five of them died 
in infancy owing to the dampness and lack of sanitation in their 
otherwise fine house in the Getreidegasse. Leopold, as ambitious 
for the two survivors as for himself, could hardly wait until his 
daughter was old enough to begin her music lessons. Nannerl was 
eight, and already an accomplished performer on the clavier, 
when her baby brother began to show an absorbing interest in the 
musical activities of the household. 

Mozart was three when he began to amuse himself at the key- 
board, and the next year his formal lessons began. At five, he was 
improvising little minuets, and his delighted father was writing 
them down. Like Each, Leopold Mozart copied into a notebook 
simple pieces for his children to study, and among them were works 
by Hasse, Telemann, and most important Karl Philipp 
Emanuel Bach. These were to be, for a while at least, the staples 
of their concerts. Their travels began in 1762 with a performance 
before the Elector of Bavaria at Munich, The tremendous furore 
over the handsome Wunderkinder whetted Leopold's appetite, and 
he was soon busy systematically taking advantage of their childish 
appeal. Later the same year they proceeded by easy stages to 
Vienna, concertizing on the way. Everywhere, the children's 
talent, but even more, Wolfgang's charm, made friends for them, 
and aroused unprecedented enthusiasm. At Vienna they found the 
city ready to receive them with open arms: their fame had pre- 
ceded them. They had scarcely arrived when a command invita- 
tion to play at court was presented at their lodgings. 

The existence, at Schonbrunn, of the most musical court in 


Europe immeasurably helped Leopold Mozart's plans. Every 
member of Maria Theresa's huge family sang or played a musical 
instrument., and the Empress had once referred to herself as the 
first of living virtuosos, because she had sung in a court opera at 
the age of seven. Of her talented daughters the caustic Dr. Burney 
said that they sang "very well for princesses." The self-possessed 
little Wolfgang more than shared Burney 3 s skepticism about Haps- 
burg musicianship: before playing, he asked loudly for the Im- 
perial music teacher: "Is Herr Wagenseil here? Let him come. 
He knows something about it." The court went mad about the 
children, and the little boy who was forever asking, "Do you love 
me? Do you really love me?" warmed characteristically to this 
show of affection, jumping on the Empress' lap and hugging and 
kissing her. Besides a gift of money, the children each received a 
court costume from Maria Theresa, and sat for a portrait. Wolf- 
gang, looking very pert and pleased, was painted in his sumptuous 
suit of stiff lavender brocade and gold lace. 

The nobility promptly followed the court's lead, and soon the 
Mozarts had invitations to the best houses in Vienna. Suddenly 
the prodigy fell ill of scarlet fever, and before he recovered, in- 
terest in him and his sister had somewhat abated. With hopes a 
little dashed, they were back in Salzburg by the beginning of 1 763. 
Six months elapsed before their next tour. To this period belongs 
the piously attested, but completely incredible, story of Mozart 
picking up a violin and playing it with no previous training. Only 
slightly less suspicious is his alleged mastery of the organ includ- 
ing the pedals at first try. His general musical virtuosity, which 
would have been remarkable in a grown man, was so phenomenal 
in a seven-year-old that witnesses, and particularly his doting 
father, hypnotized themselves into an inability to sift the pro- 
digious from the impossible. 

Leopold Mozart's plans for the second tour partook of the 
grandiose: with Paris and London as their goals, they were to 
progress across Europe like genial musical deities dispensing their 
favors. As they set out in June, their way led through the summer 
capitals of the reigning princes, who received them with amazed 
enthusiasm. At Aix-la-Chapelle one of Frederick the Great's 
sisters tried to lure them to Berlin. But the royal lady, while lavish 
with promises, was penniless and Leopold Mozart was on his 


way. At Frankfort, the fourteen-year-old Goethe heard the "little 
man, with his powdered wig and sword." By mid-November they 
arrived in Paris, where they remained five months. Here, after 
some delay, their Viennese triumph was repeated and not only 
the court but the intellectuals took them up. At Versailles, the 
strict conventions of the court of Louis XV relaxed momentarily 
while the Mozarts were there, it was like a family party. Only the 
haughty Pompadour remained aloof until Mozart innocently put 
her in her place. "Who is this that does not want to kiss me?" he 
asked. "The Empress kisses me." What doors remained closed 
despite court favor were opened through the generous offices of the 
influential Baron Grimm, a German who had become one of the 
leaders of French thought. Before leaving Paris, Leopold Mozart 
had the satisfaction of seeing his children completely capture 
French society. He signalized their triumph by having four of 
Wolfgang's sonatas for violin and clavier published, the first two 
with a dedication to Mme Victoire, one of the King's daughters. 

At London they found another musical family on the throne. 
George III and Queen Charlotte, who were uniformly kind to 
musicians, not only showered favors on them at court, but also, 
as Leopold Mozart noted with pride, nodded to them while out 
driving in St. James' Park. The Queen's music master, Johann 
Christian Bach, the youngest of Johann Sebastian's sons, and 
Handel's successor as undisputed arbiter of English music, was 
entranced by the wonderful boy, and played musical games with 
him. The affectionate child never forgot Bach. The children's first 
public concert was such a success that their father confessed him- 
self "terrified" by the size of the box-office receipts. Probably the 
excitement of a successful and fashionable London season was too 
much for him, for he took to his bed for seven weeks with a throat 
ailment. In the interim, Wolfgang composed, and at the next con- 
cert all the pieces were his own. In all, the family was in London 
more than a year, and rather outstayed its welcome. 

The Mozarts now turned their steps homeward, but so circuitous 
was their route, and so indifferent their health (only Frau Mozart 
was exempt from illness), that they were on the road more than a 
year. After playing at the court of the Prince of Orange at The 
Hague, they returned to Versailles, where they were again warmly 
welcomed. A happy summer in Switzerland followed. From 


Geneva they drove out to call on Voltaire at Ferney, but the lion 
was sick abed, and they were refused admittance. After a tri- 
umphal journey up the Rhine, they finally returned to Salzburg in 
November, 1766, having been away from home three and a half 

Leopold Mozart did not let any grass grow under his feet. 
Nannerl, at sixteen, was definitely through as a child prodigy, and 
he cannily decided to concentrate on the eleven-year-old boy, who 
had always been the family's stellar attraction. By a lot of well- 
timed boasting, the wily impresario managed to arouse the skepti- 
cism of his master, the Archbishop. His Grace decided to stop his 
retainer's loud mouth by putting this alleged Wunderkind to a stiff 
test: he divided the text of an oratorio between Wolfgang, the 
court conductor,* and the cathedral organist, keeping the boy in 
solitary confinement while he composed his part. The music was 
evidently satisfactory, for the oratorio was both performed and 
published the same year. Archbishop von Schrattenbach no longer 
doubted, and gave proof of his conversion in increased friendliness 
toward the Mozarts. 

Soon the family was off to Vienna again, hoping to play an im- 
portant role in an impending royal marriage. But a smallpox 
epidemic frustrated their little scheme: the intended bride suc- 
cumbed, and the Mozarts fled to Olmiitz, where the two children 
came down with the disease, Wolfgang being blinded for nine 
days. After being nursed back to health in the home of a humane 
and fearless nobleman, they returned to the capital, where they 
found the court plunged in mourning. Nevertheless, Maria 
Theresa and her son Josef II received them kindly. Although ex- 
ceedingly stingy, the new Emperor commissioned Wolfgang to 
write an opera. The boy accordingly composed La Finta semplice in 
record time, but faction ran so high that it was not actually pro- 
duced until months later, and then in Salzburg by order of the 
Archbishop, who was so delighted that he gave Wolfgang a high- 
sounding but unpaid position in his musical household. A second 
opera, Bastien und Bastienne, which was written for Dr. Franz 
Anton Mesmer, a respectable precursor of Mary Baker Eddy, fared 
better. Zealots have revived it in late years, but it is in reality a 

* Josef Haydn's talented brother Michael, of whose roistering ways the tight- 
lipped Leopold Mozart strongly disapproved. 


musical curio faintly adumbrating the mature style of Mozart's 
other German operas Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail and Die 

They rested in Salzburg almost a year, for Leopold Mozart was 
planning nothing less than a conquest of Italy. There was no 
respite for Wolfgang: he spent these eleven months composing 
pieces of all descriptions, and practicing, practicing, practicing. 
Then, after bidding Frau Mozart and Nannerl an affectionate 
adieu, the travelers set out armed with a battery of gilt-edged 
introductions. Crossing the Brenner in the dead of winter, they ar- 
rived, after a series of spectacular successes, at Milan, where they 
enjoyed the exalted patronage of the Governor General. Here 
Wolfgang received the blessing of Gluck's venerable teacher, Sam- 
martini. Parma, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples all capitu- 
lated to Wolfgang. He keenly missed his mother and Nannerl, 
and talked to them through letters that teem with amazingly frank 
and incisive comments on the music he heard, the famous people 
he met, and the customs of the country. Like Juvenal, he en- 
countered nothing he did not stuff into his conversational ragbag. 
Some of these letters are so coarse (to our taste but not to that of 
the eighteenth century) that their pious editors have scarcely left 
one unbowdlerized.* Mozart is always in high, and very often in 
ribald, spirits. In short, it is almost impossible to believe that these 
are the letters of a thirteen-year-old boy to his mother and sister. 
But it must be remembered that he was already an old trouper. 

At Bologna, the recognized center of Italian musical theory, 
Mozart was examined by the most eminent of its professors the 
old Padre Martini and passed with flying colors. Much the same 
tests awaited him at Florence, and from these he emerged even 
more brilliantly. There, too, he met the omnipresent Dr. Burney, 
and enjoyed a tender but brief friendship with Thomas Linley,f a 
talented English lad of exactly his own age and no doubt a vast 
relief after the endless catechisms of prying sexagenarians. There 
were tears at parting, avowals of eternal friendship, and elaborate 

* This sentence was written prior to Emily Anderson's superb three-volume anno- 
tated translation of the Mozart family correspondence. Miss Anderson a civil 
servant in her spare time is pious, in the best sense of the word. She sticks to the text 
whatever the consequences. 

f He was Richard Brinsley Sheridan's brother-in-law. His death at the age of 
twenty-two was a serious loss (say pundits) to English music, then starving to death 
from lack of talent. 


plans for another meeting. But their gypsy lives kept them apart, 
and they never met again. 

The Mozarts reached Rome in time to hear the Holy Week 
music, and there (appropriately enough) Wolfgang performed one 
of his miracles. A staple of these celebrations was the performance 
in the Sistine Chapel of Allegri's famed Miserere, a contrapuntal 
labyrinth in nine voices. After hearing it once, the boy made a 
copy from memory, a feat that attracted the friendly interest of 
Clement XIV and brought a shower of invitations from the 
princely Roman families. Amid all this excitement, Wolfgang took 
time to send Nannerl a request for some new minuets by Michael 
Haydn. After less than a month in the Holy City, they set out 
nervously (their way lay through banditti-infested territory) for 
Naples. They visited Pompeii, looked at Vesuvius "smoking furi- 
ously," and found the right patrons, among them Sir William 
Hamilton, the English ambassador, now remembered only as the 
husband of Lord Nelson's Emma. 

Returning north to spend the summer near Bologna, father and 
son stopped in Rome for a fortnight. The Pope (or his deputy) in- 
vested Wolfgang with the Golden Spur, which his father described 
loftily as "a piece of good luck," observing further, "You can 
imagine how I laugh when I hear people calling him Signor 
Cavalier e" The fact that his son had the same order as Gluck was a 
great satisfaction to the ambitious Leopold, who for some time in- 
sisted that Wolfgang use the title in his signature. The boy was less 
: mpressed, and soon dropped the appellation. Signal honors 
awaited him at Bologna, where the Accademia Filarmonica 
waived its age limit of twenty years, and elected him to member- 
ship after another rigorous test. At Milan he rushed to completion 
his Mitridate, Re di Ponto, an opera the Governor General had com- 
missioned during the Mozarts' first visit. It was a sure-fire hit, 
packing the opera house for twenty nights. 

At last, after more than two years' wandering in the peninsula, 
the wayworn troupers were back in Salzburg in March, 1771. In 
Mozart's pockets were two important commissions another 
opera for Milan and an oratorio for Padua, and soon a letter came 
requesting a dramatic serenata for the nuptials of another of 
Maria Theresa's numerous progeny. Five months of feverish com- 
posing followed, and then another trip to Milan, where Mozart's 


serenata more than held its own against the last of the aged Basse's 
innumerable operas, drawing a typically Pecksniffian comment 
from his father: "It really distresses me very greatly, but Wolf- 
gang's serenata has completely killed Hasse's opera." But the old 
man, whose luscious arias had been the consolation of princes, 
said with true generosity, "This boy will throw us all into the 

The day after the Mozarts returned home, the old Archbishop 
died. It was a sadder event than they realized: his successor was 
the forever-to-be-vilified Hieronymus von Colloredo, Bishop of 
Gurk. His reputation was already so grim that at the news of his 
election Salzburg all but went into mourning. Of course, his pro- 
motion called for special musical services, and though he was 
an archbishop, opera was particularly specified. As if avenging 
the future, Mozart, selecting one of Metastasio's most threadbare 
librettos, proceeded to write, in II Sogno di Scipione, the worst opera 
he ever composed. Indeed, it was so infernally dull that it might 
well have roused resentment in a more charitable man than Von 
Colloredo. After another bout of composing, Mozart went back 
to Milan for six months. His new opera, Lucio Silla, was a triumph, 
and partly on the strength of it the Governor General tried to 
wangle a court appointment for him at Florence. But the negotia- 
tions came to nothing, and father and son heavyheartedly pre- 
pared to brave what difficulties Salzburg under the new dispensa- 
tion had in store for them. They recrossed the Brenner in March, 
1773: Mozart bade farewell to Italy for the last time. Half of his 
life was over. 

The Mozarts soon found their worst fears realized: conditions 
in Von Colloredo's Salzburg were intolerable. There was no 
pleasing this martinet of the Church. Obviously, if Wolfgang were 
to realize his or his father's ambitions, it would have to be 
somewhere else. Remembering the unfailing friendliness of Maria 
Theresa, the Mozarts decided to try Vienna first. The Empress was 
just as kind as ever, but that was all: they came away empty- 
handed, as balked of remunerative employment here as in Italy. 
But failure did not dam the flow of Wolfgang's pen: both in Vienna 

* Hasse, who had been a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach without recognizing his 
genius, could more easily appreciate the Italianate style of the archnaimic Mozart. 


and after returning home, he continued to pile up work for his 
future editors. 

Before the end of 1774, however, it seemed that if Mozart 
played his cards well he might soon free himself from the crushing 
routine of the Salzburg court. Strings were pulled, and a commis- 
sion for an opera arrived from the Elector of Bavaria. The results 
were the same as usual: La Finta giardiniera delighted its hearers, 
but Mozart lingered vainly in Munich. There was nothing to do 
but return dispiritedly once again to Salzburg and compose, 
compose, compose. Although he could not know it, his apprentice- 
ship was over: for the first time, he began to produce music that is 
of as much interest to music lovers as to experts. He got into his 
stride with a festival play, II Re pastore, in honor of an archducal 
visit. As opera, it is lifeless stuff, but among several tasteful arias is 
one that still gets an occasional airing: "Uamero, saw costante" Five 
brilliant concertos for violin and orchestra followed. Doubtless 
Mozart wrote them for himself, a$ his father wanted him to be- 
come the foremost violin virtuoso in Europe. So, while the urge 
was on him, the mercurial youth wrote these five masterpieces of 
his c 'gallant" style and thereafter practically abandoned the 
violin concerto. Graceful, and brimming over with dash and brio, 
these delectable pieces are as alive today as they were on the day 
they were written, and violinists like Heifetz, Szigeti, and Menu- 
hin delight in playing them. 

Up to 1775, Mozart's compositions were remarkable chiefly 
because they were written by a boy. Those who take the trouble 
to work through the volumes of Wyzewa and Saint-Foix's ex- 
haustive treatise on the early Mozart will find this statement amply 
corroborated by the musical quotations. Aside from the fact that 
any child composer is something of a phenomenon, Mozart is- 
doubly remarkable for the fecundity of his gift at such an early 
age. On the other hand, though this stupendous output naturally 
abounds in hints of his own peculiar genius, it is primarily the work 
of an extraordinarily facile and sensitive mimic, echoing the styles 
and forms of everyone from Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach to Hasse. 
But this early music, which on superficial examination may seem 
merely clever, is actually more: it is the voice of someone trem- 
bling on the brink of greatness, and only awaiting respite from pa- 
ternal Stakhanovism to realize his genius. And the proof of this is 


that as soon as his father could no longer exhibit him as a freak, 
and he was thus allowed a period of comparative leisure, Mozart 
began to write music that is unmistakably his own. As late as 
January, 1775, the influential critic, C. F. D. Schubart, was writ- 
ing with a kind of skeptical faith: "Unless Mozart should prove to 
be a mere overgrown product of the forcing-house, he will be the 
greatest composer that ever lived." 

The transition from adolescence to manhood, always a difficult 
phase, is a dramatic crisis in the life of a prodigy. Inevitably, there 
is danger that his artistic development will not match his physical 
growth. This was the peril confronting Mozart, his family, and 
his well-wishers in 1 775. There is nothing sadder or more grotesque 
than a grown man with the mind and talents of the brilliant child 
he was, and it may be assumed that during these crucial early 
seventies, while the pretty little boy was changing into a pleasant 
but not very attractive youth, people were nervously wondering 
whether this fate was in store for him. They had found it easy to 
believe that such a delightful little creature was a genius; at nine- 
teen they found him less convincing. This short, slight fellow, with 
his shock of blond hair and rather too prominent aquiline nose, 
was really rather commonplace-looking by no means a good ad- 
vertisement for his parents, who had been called the handsomest 
couple in Salzburg. Nor was Mozart insensitive to the change: to 
compensate for his insignificant appearance, he began to affect 
embroidered coats and an excessive amount of jewelry, and took 
special pains with his hair, of which he was very vain. 

His well-wishing but apprehensive friends could not know what 
was happening inside of Mozart, for excepting his changed ap- 
pearance he seemed much the same as always. His almost morbidly 
affectionate nature was possibly a bit less intense the genial 
Mozart, with his taste for boon companions, billiards, dancing, and 
good wine, was emerging. As a child he had been precociously 
aware of women's good looks (and as quick to criticize lack of 
them), and even before he was out of his teens he began to show 
evidence of a sexual urge that seems at times to have been exces- 
sive. Yet, despite decidedly mature tastes, he remained tied to his 
father's apron strings. His relationship to this domineering, schem- 
ing, and ambitious man is a puzzle to the twentieth-century 
reader. Until his twenty-fifth year it never entered his head to 


question, much less to disobey, Leopold Mozart's fiats on every 
subject under the sun, and he never tired of saying that he con- 
sidered his father "next to God." Unfortunately, this touching 
attitude was partly an excuse for his own unwillingness and in- 
ability to make decisions for himself. It had served a certain pur- 
pose in the past, but was no weapon for the struggles of the future. 

In Leopold Mozart's house, religion always held a prominent 
place. He was a devout and unquestioning Catholic, and assumed 
that his children would emulate him. And Wolfgang, during his 
childhood, was certainly as observant of Catholic practices as his 
father could wish. But his religion was as much a sort of mimicry 
as was his mastery of every musical style. As he matured, he did 
not so much rebel against the Church as lose interest in it. The 
bulk of his religious music was composed early, and though it has 
found many admirers, it would not of itself have placed Mozart 
among the immortals. The paradox is that after he had lost his 
formal Catholic faith, he wrote really great religious music based 
on a personal, and by no means orthodox, mysticism. His early 
Masses and smaller church pieces are, at their worst, trivial. Even 
the best of them a Missa brevis in F major (K. 192)* is an 
operatic and often skittish composition. Indeed, its relation to 
faith and devotion seems remote the solemn words of the text not 
infrequently trip to the gayest of Neapolitan dance tunes. The 
statement has often been made that Mozart's choral technique 
rivals that of Bach: if true, this is an interesting fact, which may 
well be pondered as we listen to the empty loveliness of the Missa 
brevis and the even shallower one in D (K. 194). 

The year 1776 and most of 1777 are baffling to those who expect 
to see the promise of the violin concertos immediately fulfilled. 
Much of the music belonging to this period is perfunctory, and 
uninspired by any emotion other than a desire to have done with 
it. Mozart, as we shall see, was capable of turning out a master- 
piece at short order, but the business of grinding out salon pieces 
for a patron whom he thoroughly despised was beginning to sap 
his strength and impair the freshness of his talent. Feeling the way 

* Mozart's hundreds of compositions are identified by their numbers in Dr. 
Ludwig von KochePs thematic catalogue, here abbreviated as K. A new edition, 
with some changes in numbering, was published in 1937, under the editorship of Dr. 
Alfred Einstein. As this valuable revision is not yet in general use, we have preferred 
the old numbering. 


he did, it is amazing that he managed to produce anything above 
the mediocre. Yet, to this period belong a really effective clavier 
concerto (K. 271) and the "Haffner" Serenade, written for the 
marriage of Burgomaster Haffner's daughter. This Serenade, which 
incidentally is longer than the average symphony, is in reality a 
suite of unrelated pieces, themselves very uneven in quality. There 
are moments, however, when the accents are unmistakably those 
of the Mozart of the great symphonies. 

By September, 1777, Mozart had reached a point at which he 
could no longer bear the inactivity of Salzburg. All of his desires 
were to compose operas and symphonies and Von Colloredo 
would have none of them. So the birds of passage applied once 
more for leave of absence. When the Archbishop curtly refused, 
Leopold Mozart drew up a formal petition. This time, their mas- 
ter's reply was to dismiss them both from his service, though he 
reconsidered, and allowed the father to remain. As Wolfgang was 
now twenty-one, he naturally believed that he would be allowed 
to travel alone. But his hopes were dashed: his father had no in- 
tention of unleashing him without a family guardian. As he him- 
self could not go, he delegated Frau Mozart a bad choice, for she 
was neither very strong nor very clever. Mother and son set out 
for Munich on September 23, 1777. Suddenly, Leopold Mozart 
realized that he had forgotten to give Wolfgang his blessing. He 
rushed to the window to outstretch a benedictional hand and 
saw the carriage vanishing in the distance. 

Five weeks later, the Mozarts 3 carriage rumbled into Mannheim, 
a bumbling little town, but the seat of the Elector Palatine's profli- 
gate and brilliant court. Here they remained more than four months, 
for Mannheim boasted the finest band in Europe. Under the direc- 
tion of the renowned Johann Stamitz and his successors, it had so 
revolutionized ensemble playing that it has been called the father 
of the modern orchestra. Mozart, who came in at the tail end of 
this development, missed nothing of it, and lost no opportunity of 
hearing these famous players. The performances of opera in Ger- 
man interested him even more, and through these, fate (never 
very kind to Mozart) introduced him to Fridolin Weber, one of 
those curious personages, mediocre in themselves, but certain of 
immortality because of their connections with the great. This little 
man, copyist and prompter at the opera, was to be Carl Maria von 


Weber's uncle and Mozart's father-in-law. In 1777, Herr Weber's 
greatness was all in the future but he had a family of daughters. 

Soon Mozart's letters home palpitated with praise of Aloysia 
Weber, whom he painted as a Rhenish Venus with a heavenly 
voice. He was ready to abandon everything, and in the combined 
role of teacher, impresario, composer, accompanist, and lover, 
barnstorm through Italy with this paragon, who would, he was 
sure, captivate Italian hearts forever. But he did not reckon with 
his father: the awful voice spoke from Salzburg: "Off with you to 
Paris, and that immediately! Take up your position among those 
who are really great aut Caesar aut nihill" Wolfgang obeyed. On 
March 14, after taking leave of the weeping Webers, Mozart and 
his mother set out sadly for Paris. Frau Mozart would much rather 
have gone home. 

But Mozart was not destined to be a Caesar in Paris, which was 
too taken up with the quarrel of the Gluckists and Piccinnists to 
pay any attention to a former prodigy with no stake in either side. 
"People pay fine compliments, it is true," he complained to his 
father, "but there it ends. They arrange for me to come on such 
and such a day. I play, and hear them exclaim: Oh, c'est unprodige, 
c'est inconcevable, c'est etonnant, and with that good-by." At last,, 
however, Mozart found one noble patron, and for him and his 
daughter virtuosos both he composed a concerto for flute, harp, 
and orchestra (K. 299) abounding in delightful themes, despite the 
fact that he abhorred both flute and harp as solo instruments. 
Marie Antoinette, who had done so much for "noire cher Gluck" 
insulted Mozart by offering him an ill-paid organist's job at Ver- 
sailles. His mother's mysterious illness added to his worries. In 
July he had to break the news of her death to his father and sister. 
Although he did not dissipate his energies in mourning, neverthe- 
less the appearance of his genial old London friend, Johann Chris- 
tian Bach, must have been welcome to the lonely youth. But Paris 
obviously had nothing solid to offer him and the thought of 
Aloysia Weber was always on his mind. 

Accordingly, after reluctantly posting his acceptance of another 
court appointment his father had wangled for him in Salzburg,* 
Mozart turned his back on Paris. Evidently he was in no hurry to 

* Leopold Mozart's sly hint that there might be a job for Aloysia Weber in the 
choir undoubtedly helped to clinch the matter. 


keep his date with Von Colloredo, for he spent four months on the 
road. Floods detained him in Strasbourg, mere sentimentality in 
Mannheim (for the Webers had already proceeded to Munich in 
the Elector's train) . In Mannheim, however, he almost wrote two 
operas, and almost became a conductor. At Munich, where he 
hoped to dally long, he found that Aloysia Weber had all but for- 
gotten him. Not even a sharp reminder from Leopold Mozart that 
he was overdue in Salzburg was needed, and by the middle of 
January, 1779, a very dejected young man had returned home. 

For two years, Mozart fretted in captivity. He was court Kon- 
zertmeister and organist, but despite these exalted titles was no bet- 
ter off than before. Daily the rift between him and the Archbishop 
grew wider. Worse, he began to realize that his father had tricked 
him into returning to Salzburg, and though the old affection be- 
tween them was not materially impaired, they no longer trusted 
each other. It is not at all strange that so few of the many composi- 
tions of these two years show Mozart at his best. The most notable 
exceptions are the Sinfonia Concertante (K. 364), his only Con- 
certo for Two Pianos (K. 365), and the Symphony in C major 
(K. 338), all of which are still heard occasionally. The first of 
these is especially fine a passionate, deeply felt work "not at all 
suited," as Eric Blom has observed, "to an archiepiscopal court." 

Mozart was still lusting after the fleshpots of opera, and probably 
with the idea of amateur performance in Salzburg, he began to 
amuse himself with the writing of that curious fragment a later 
editor christened dide. It is a trifling little comedy a typical 
Singspiel with several charming airs that foreshadow Mozart's 
masterpiece in this genre Die Entfilhrung aus dem SeraiL Fortu- 
nately for the history of opera, he was interrupted by a long-desired 
invitation to compose another stage work for Munich, to be given 
during the carnival of 1781. The result was Idomemo, Re di Greta, 
a tragic opera based on a subject from Greek mythology. Mozart 
had been studying Gluck, but unhappily his librettist had not been 
studying Calzabigi. It was not a heaven-made collaboration, and 
the composer overcame the ponderousness of the libretto only by 
slashing it unmercifully and writing superior music for what 

Idomeneo is essentially a compromise the fusing of Gluck's con- 
ception of music as the handmaid of drama and Mozart's far su- 


perior gifts as an absolute musician. It shows clearly that Mozart 
had taken the lessons ofAlceste to heart, but without being shackled 
by them. If Gluck ever heard Idomeneo, he must have been shocked 
and a bit envious at the way his young rival allows himself to 
be seized by a purely musical idea, and suspends the drama while 
he soars aloft. Such goings-on were outside of Gluck's theories 
and beyond his powers. The pointedly severe orchestral introduc- 
tion conforms to the Gluckian canon, but several of the bravura 
arias might have made the older man wonder if he had lived in 
vain. And he would have been quite right about the solos in the 
last act, which are decidedly conventional singers' exhibition pieces. 
On the strength of the mild success of Idomeneo> which was first 
performed on January 29, 1781, Mozart decided to remain in 
Munich to enjoy the carnival, and to haunt the Elector's court 
for he still hoped against hope that he would be asked to stay. 
Then, suddenly in mid-March, he was summoned to join the Arch- 
bishop, who had taken his grim face to Vienna for Maria Theresa's 
funeral, and the following months were among the most critical of 
his life. It was at once apparent that the brutal churchman was 
bent on humiliating Mozart in every possible way: he was treated 
like a menial, made to eat at the servants' table, and addressed in 
a fashion usually reserved, even under that outlandish caste sys- 
tem, for underscullions and ruffians. Those who have tried to find 
some slight palliation for .Von Colloredo's conduct seem to forget 
that he was generally detested even by his fellow nobles. Now his 
treatment of Mozart made him an object of ridicule among those 
who felt themselves honored by the composer's presence at their 
table. Agitated letters passed almost daily between Mozart and his 
father, with the latter playing his usual timeserving role. Mozart 
was particularly annoyed because the Archbishop forbade him to 
play elsewhere than at his own palace. Events hurried toward a 
crisis. On May 9, he had an audience with Von Colloredo, who 
shouted at him like a fishwife. Mozart rushed to his lodgings, and 
drafted two letters: the first, to the Archbishop, asked that his 
resignation be accepted immediately; the second, to his father, 
asked for moral support. The Archbishop deigned no reply, and 
Leopold Mozart's letter, after hinting that his son was doomed to 
perdition, called upon him to submit. This Mozart had no inten- 
tion of doing. After waiting a full month for Von Colloredo's an- 


swer, he once more presented himself at the palace. This time he 
was kicked out of the room by one of the Archbishop's toadies. 
This was His Grace's way of accepting the resignation. 

Even before finally breaking with the Archbishop, Mozart had 
enraged his father by moving to an inn where the nomadic Webers 
were staying. Fridolin was dead, Aloysia had married one Lange, 
an actor, and now the family was presided over by a slatternly 
drunken mother. Having failed to carry off Aloysia, Mozart now 
began to court her younger sister, Constanze. Soon Vienna hummed 
with gossip of the goings-on at The Eye of God, as the inn was 
called, and the evil news trickled to Salzburg. A thunderous de- 
nunciation came from the tireless old busybody. Mozart denied 
everything, including any intention of marrying. Evidently refer- 
ring to alleged irregularities with Constanze, he wrote in July, "If 
I had to marry every girl I've jested with, I'd have at least two 
hundred wives by now. 5 ' But for discretion's sake, he changed his 
lodgings. Before the year was up, however, Leopold received the 
bad news that Wolfgang, in the novel role of a Galahad, was de- 
termined to rescue poor Constanze from her unappreciative family. 
"She is not ugly, 35 he wrote, "but at the same time far from beau- 
tiful. Her whole beauty consists in two small black eyes, and a 
handsome figure. She has no wit, but enough sound human sense 
to be able to fulfill her duties as a wife and mother. 55 

What finally decided Mozart to brave his father's wrath was not 
only his loneliness (and the insistence of Constanze' s guardian that 
he make an honest woman out of her*), but also an apparent im- 
provement in his worldly position. He had a few pupils, some of 
his compositions had been published, and once more he was in 
demand as a virtuoso. Better still, in July, 1781, the managers of 
the German Opera Josef II's pet musical project handed him a 
libretto to set. With his domestic future so unsettled, Mozart was 
not prepared to work unremittingly on Die Entfuhrung aus dem 
Serail, however dear to his heart. The routine trivia of a busy 
musician's life, including an arduous contest with the pianist Muzio 
Clementi for the amusement of the court, he could take in his 
stride, but quite as unsettling as Constanze' s limited charms was 

* Constanze's guardian made Mozart sign a promise to marry her within three 
years or give her a life annuity. To Constanze 5 s credit, be it said that as soon as the 
guardian was out of sight she tore up the contract. 


his meeting with Haydn, which was followed by a more or less 
complete reorientation of his art. The first act of the opera went 
fast, but the entire score was not finished for almost a year, some of 
the delay being due to the clumsiness and absurdities of the pseudo- 
Oriental libretto. The musical cliques, which in Vienna prolifer- 
ated like bacteria, were banded against him, and were determined 
that Die Entfuhrung should not be produced. Eventually, Josef II 
had to intervene, and command its performance. The night of the 
premiere, July 16, 1782, was an unmarred triumph for Mozart: the 
house was packed, the court was present, and number after num- 
ber was encored. During the rest of the season, the management 
coined money in countless repetitions of the new opera. 

Scarcely three weeks after the first performance, with the praise 
of Vienna ringing in his ears, Mozart led Constanze to the altar 
at St. Stephen's. 

The opera that had made the future seem brighter to Mozart 
has not worn well. Die Entfuhrung belongs to that suspicious group 
of works that are called great merely, it seems, because they are by 
great composers. Furthermore, its musical quality has been exag- 
gerated because of its importance as the first complete Singspiel 
by a major dramatic composer. There are fine things in the opera 
the trouble is that they are in all sorts of styles. In the entire 
piece, Mozart, with his keen nose for drama, developed only one 
completely convincing character the richly farcical Osmin. Yet 
the whole business proceeds in high good spirits, which for the 
time being reconcile us to a succession of airs in every style from 
Neapolitan to Viennese Turkish. The bits from Die Entfuhrung that 
recitalists resuscitate are almost as lovely as anything in Mozart, 
but hearing them out of their context leads one to expect the 
opera as a whole to be more satisfying than it is. 

The success of Die Entfuhrung had given Mozart courage to marry 
Constanze, but when they got home from St. Stephen's they found 
the cupboard bare. It was, except for short periods, to remain that 
way for the rest of Mozart's life. He was careless and extravagant; 
Constanze, though too unimaginative to be a spendthrift, was an 
even worse manager than he. Even at the height of his fame (which 
was far more considerable than many sentimentalists have been 
willing to admit), Mozart never made money in large sums. When, 
shortly after a special performance of Die Entfuhrung arranged by 


the managers of the German Opera at Gluck's request., the aged 
autocrat of 'the music drama asked the Mozarts to his splendid 
mansion in the suburbs of Vienna, the disparity of their worldly 
positions must have been painfully apparent. Their own home was 
in the shabbiest quarter of the city, in a narrow, ill-smelling lane. 

The next two years saw Mozart taking what advantage he could 
of his growing fame. Reading the roster of the phenomenal num- 
ber of his engagements to play in the homes of the highest Vien- 
nese society, it is something of a mystery that he did not accumu- 
late wealth. For instance, in five weeks of 1784, he played nine 
times at the magnificent Count Janos Esterhazy's, and the same 
year Haydn invited him to appear several times at Prince Miklds 
Esterhazy's Vienna house. Furthermore, besides taking part in 
concerts of other artists, including those of his increasingly famous 
sister-in-law, Aloysia Lange, Mozart began to give subscription 
concerts of his own, which were attended by the nobility and the 
diplomatic corps en masse. The Emperor, who was frequently 
present, always applauded loudly and shouted bravo. As a host, 
Mozart provided musical fare of indescribable richness. No pro- 
gram was complete without at least one symphony, one or two 
piano concertos, a divertimento, and several small pieces, all topped 
off with an improvised fantasia. This last always brought down the 

Some slight conception of Mozart's ability as a keyboard artist 
may be extracted from the ecstatic eulogy of an early biographer: 
"If I might have the fulfillment of one wish on earth, it would be 
to hear Mozart improvise once more on the piano. . . ." The 
child clavier prodigy had perfectly adapted his maturing tech- 
nique to the demands of the early piano, which, however, cannot 
be compared in sonority, volume, or flexibility to the modern 
concert grand. 

The best of Mozart's music for the piano alone, with the excep- 
tion of the late Fantasia in C minor (K. 475),* was written before 

* Bernard Shaw's adventures with this Fantasia in the London of the nineties are 
worth quoting in full: "Do you know that noble fantasia in G minor, in which 
Mozart shewed what Beethoven was to do with the pianoforte sonata, just as in Das 
Veilchen he shewed what Schubert was to do with the song? Imagine my feelings 
when Madame Backer Grondahl, instead of playing th : s fantasia (which she would 
have done beautifully), set Madame Haas to play it, and then sat down beside her 
and struck up 'an original part for a second piano,' in which every interpolation was 
an impertinence and every addition a blemish. Shocked and pained as every one 


1779, and therefore does not belong to the high noon of his genius. 
The sonatas are, with several notable exceptions, rather light- 
weight works, showing a complete command of the technical re- 
sources of the time. Some of them, indeed, show little else, and are 
full of empty variational passagework. The best, however, are 
among the permanent delights of music. The most familiar is prob- 
ably that in A major (K. 331), consisting of a gracious theme and 
variations, a decorous but almost romantic minuet, and the now 
hackneyed Rondo alia Turca, which needs the perfect sympathy 
and flawless touch of a master to rescue it from banality. But the 
Sonata in A minor (K. 310) has the most body, and is probably 
the favorite of those whose conception of the sonata is based on 
the massive structures of Beethoven. It pulses with drama, and is 
painted with darker colors than are common in the Mozartian 

The piano concertos, over twenty in number, are more reward- 
ing to the listener than the sonatas, and are incomparably more 
important historically. While no one man can accurately be re- 
ferred to as the inventor of a musical form, Mozart did such a 
perfect job of fusing and adapting certain elements he found at 
hand that the classical concerto for piano and orchestra may be 
regarded as his achievement. In the sonatas, on the other hand, 
Mozart merely worked out the ideas of Karl Philipp Emanuel 
Bach and Haydn in his own way. On the piano concertos, which 
were staples of his musical soirees, he lavished his most exquisite 
care and unstinted inventiveness.* The best of them belong to the 
years 1784-86, though he had all but perfected the form by his 
twentieth year. Picking first-magnitude stars from a galaxy is a 

who knew and loved the fantasia must have been, there was a certain grim ironic 
interest in the fact that the man who has had the unspeakable presumption to offer 
us his improvements on Mozart is the infinitesimal Grieg. The world reproaches 
Mozart for his inspired variations on Handel's 'The people that walked in dark- 
ness.' I do not know what the world will now say to Grieg; but if ever he plays that 
'original second part* himself to an audience equipped with adequate musical cul- 
ture, I sincerely advise him to ascertain beforehand that no brickbats or other loose 
and suitably heavy articles have been left carelessly about the room." 

London Music in 188889 as Heard by Corno di Bassetto 

* The piano parts of the concertos are often notoriously bare in outline. When 
Mozart played a piano concerto in public he was the first person ever to do so he 
enriched the solo part with ornament and other improvisation. It was not until Bee- 
thoven's time that it was thought necessary to set down all the notes to be played 
and even he once sent the manuscript of his G minor Concerto to the publisher with 
the piano part missing. He had forgotten to write it down ! 


fascinating game that anyone can play, and among the Mozart 
piano concertos there are enough masterpieces to go around. Some 
stargazers favor the A major (K. 414), small but perfect in design, 
and full of youthful charm. The B flat major (K. 450) is a Haydn 
joke in the first movement, typically Mozartian variations in the 
second, and a premonition of Schumann (in cap and bells, of all 
things!) in the third. The A major (K. 488) and the C minor (K. 
491) were written during March, 1786, while Mozart was finishing 
Le Nozze di Figaro. The slow movement of the former is among the 
most touching and beautiful music ever written, diffusing the 
serene melancholy of "magic casements, opening on the foam of 
perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn." In the C minor, this melan- 
choly has deepened into gloom. Sir Donald Tovey calls the last 
movement of this Concerto "sublime," and it is known that 
Beethoven was profoundly affected by it. Anyone who can listen to 
this C minor Concerto, and still say that Mozart is heartless, 
simply cannot hear. 

What Mozart, pouring out incredible musical riches, was hoping 
for was not more opportunity for playing in the houses of the great. 
He wanted the court appointment he knew he deserved. In 1783, 
tired of waiting, he began to toy with the idea of trying his luck in 
Paris and London, but his father, who sat sulking in Salzburg, 
fulminated bitterly against this proposed gypsying. Besides, in 
June Constanze gave birth to their first child, a boy. At this point, 
Mozart thought it high time for his father and Nannerl to meet his 
wife, and so the very next month he and Constanze rushed off to 
Salzburg, leaving the luckless infant in the care of a wet nurse. It 
died while they were away.* The Salzburg visit was a failure, and 
after three months of cool amenities, during which Mozart toiled 
halfheartedly at two never completed operas, they started for 
home. At Linz, they found old Count Thun, whose daughter-in- 
law was one of Mozart's pupils, preparing for a fete. He asked 
Mozart to write a symphony for the occasion, and with the alacrity 
and sang-froid of a conjuror pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he pro- 
duced the great C major ("Linz") Symphony (K. 425). 

By this time November, 1783 Mozart had written almost 
forty symphonies. Most of these are of small account, and show, 

* In all, this harum-scarum couple had seven children. It is little wonder that only 
two survived. 


for Mozart, a certain slowness in realizing the full possibilities of 
the symphonic form. Except for the witty but superficial "Paris" 
Symphony (K. 297), and one or two others, his most characteristic 
symphonies were composed after his meeting with Haydn in 1781. 
The effect of this relationship and of a closer knowledge of Haydn's 
symphonies was, curiously enough, to make Mozart more than 
ever himself. The first fruit of this stimulus was a second serenade 
written for the Haffner family, and later recast in the form of a 
symphony. The "Haffner," in D major (K. 385), is miniature in 
size and perfect from beginning to end. The first movement is 
unique in Mozart for having only one theme, but he rings so many 
changes on this that the effect is one of infinite variety. The 
minuet is the formal grace of the rococo in essence; it enfolds a 
middle section of hushed ecstasy that is one of the tenderest 
moments in music. The final rondo, which Mozart wanted to be 
played "as fast as possible," sounds in part like an Ariel's adapta- 
tion of Three Blind Mice, and brings the "Haffner" to a close in a 
rush of pell-mell good spirits. The "Linz," though not so flawless, 
shows Mozart developing. Here, for the first time, he tries a slow 
introduction an effect he was to turn into sheer poetry in the E 
flat Symphony (K. 543) . The almost exotic orchestral color, which 
might be misinterpreted as a deliberate experiment, is really acci- 
dental Count Thun had trumpeters and drummers in his band, 
but no flautists or clarinetists. The "Linz," unfortunately, is now- 
adays much neglected: one of the foremost living musicologists had 
to confess in 1935 that he had heard it but once. 

After bidding farewell to Count Thun, Mozart returned to 
Vienna, and for more than a year nothing broke the monotonous 
round of his bread-and-butter existence. To compensate for the 
staleness of life, and to satisfy his yearning for friendship, he be- 
came more and more interested in the activities of a Masonic lodge 
he had joined some years before. Freemasonry in those days was 
not the stodgy, perfunctory institution it has become instead of 
being a haven for backslappers, it was a refuge for liberal thinkers 
and artists, Catholic as well as Protestant. Mozart took Free- 
masonry very seriously. He was a militant proselytizer for the 
order, and even succeeded in converting his bigoted father to its 
tenets. As the pious Haydn also became a Mason early in 1785, it 
is possible that Mozart had won him over, too. Unfortunately, the 


music Mozart composed for his lodge remains buried in Kochel, 
and so it is impossible to comment on it. A funeral march is said to 
be particularly fine, but the only musical result we can judge is Die 
auberfldte, which has a Masonic libretto. 

In February, 1785, Leopold Mozart visited Wolfgang and Con- 
stanze, and stayed ten weeks. Sixty-six years had somewhat mel- 
lowed his irascible and tyrannical nature, and though he never 
completely forgave the marriage, his son and daughter-in-law 
found themselves on easier terms with him. He was much im- 
pressed by their affluence extremely temporary, unhappily and 
delighted in watching the enthusiastic response to Wolfgang's 
musical prowess. His cup of gratification overflowed the night that 
the great Haydn (with two barons in attendance) called on the 
Mozarts in state. Later in the evening, Ditters von Dittersdorf and 
Wanhal dropped in, and then four of the most eminent musicians 
alive sat down to play Mozart's three new quartets. Before leaving^ 
Haydn drew the elder Mozart aside, and said solemnly to him, "I 
declare to you before God, and as an honest man, that your son is 
the greatest composer I know, either personally or by name." 
Haydn could justly take pride in the quartets they had just played, 
for they were children of his own quartets. No one realized his in- 
debtedness more than Mozart himself, for in dedicating these and 
three other quartets to Haydn, he said, "From Haydn I first 
learned how to compose a quartet." 

This memorable evening was the fulfillment of Leopold Mozart's 
life, which, according to his lights, he had devoted to his children. 
After returning to Salzburg, he bqgan to fail in health, and died in 
May, 1787^ without having seen his son again. 

Those who pause in awe before the vastness of the Kochel 
catalogue, with its hundreds of listings, will find the string quartets 
a comparatively -easy problem. The key is that they are divided 
into two groups those written between 1770 and 1773, and 
those written in 1782 and after. Unless you are a professional 
musicologist, you may forget the first group they are not played 
often because they contain little but promise, which is an extremely 
flat diet for a musical -evening. That Mozart stopped composing 
quartets for nine years better to ponder the true esthetics of the 
form is most unlikely, What happened was, as we know, that he 
met Haydn in 1 781, and during the next four years wrote the set of 


six quartets dedicated to him. Nowhere, not even in the sym- 
phonies, is Haydn's beneficial effect on Mozart so apparent. In- 
deed, in the first of the "Haydn" Quartets the G major (K. 387) 
the influence forces Mozart's own idiom into the background. 
Coming upon this quartet unexpectedly would constitute a knotty 
problem in attribution. Incidentally, this does not mean that it 
could be mistaken for anything except the best Haydn. But the 
second of the set, the D minor (K. 421), is pure Mozart, though in 
an unusually tragic, almost Beethovian, mood. It is classical music 
with a future and that future is romanticism, with its glories and 
mistakes. The sixth of the "Haydn" set, the C major (K. 465), 
raised a tempest in the critical teapot that has not subsided yet. 
The introduction contains a discord. The effect on all strata of 
society was inconceivable: a prince tore up the parts, a printer sent 
them back with the sharp remark that they contained "obvious 
misprints," and the professional critics met in solemn conclave, 
and pronounced Mozart a barbarian. Only Haydn had the sense 
to say, "If Mozart wrote thus, he must have done so with good 
reason." We who have eaten of the apples of modern discord can 
listen to the C major Quartet untroubled by anything except its 

Perhaps the critical barrage left Mozart a sadder man. At any 
rate, he never again ran foul of the pundits in the same overt way. 
His four remaining string quartets are well mannered and de- 
tached, genius being lavished on technical polish rather than on 
deep expression. The last three, indeed, are courtly and beautifully 
surfaced and correctly so. They were composed to order for 
Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, who was a cello virtuoso in a 
small way, which explains why so accomplished a craftsman as 
Mozart allowed the cello part occasionally to upset the balance of 
the ensemble. The "King of Prussia" set must yield on all counts 
to the "Haydn": in these latter, Mozart showed an understanding 
of the separate personalities of the four strings that no other com- 
poser not even Beethoven has ever surpassed. Into the "Haydn" 
Quartets he poured a wealth of musical ideas not inferior in kind to 
those with which he built his great symphonies and concertos. 

When, late in 1785, Mozart turned again to writing for the stage, 
he was vibrant with a newly perfected command of contrapuntal 
idiom. Der Schauspieldirektor, a humorless parody of theatrical life, 


is almost too trivial to justify the loving care Mozart gave it. Evi- 
dently he was so pleased to be writing in the theater again that 
he used this dull story as a peg on which to hang numbers worthy 
of a better idea. Besides, the Emperor had sent him the libretto, 
and he may have been playing politics, particularly as his formi- 
dable rival Salieri was to give an opera of his own at the same court 
fete. The overture and concluding quartet of Der Schauspieldirektor 
have a richer contrapuntal fabric than Mozart had previously used 
in opera, and each of the actors is assigned music that cleverly 
lights up his character. But even with these advantages, the tiny 
opera has failed to survive except in versions (themselves by no 
means popular) that Mozart would not recognize. 

Der Schauspieldirektor was but an interruption in the creation 
of one of Mozart's masterpieces, Le Nozze di Figaro. Not long after 
his father's return to Salzburg, he had been approached by Lorenzo 
da Ponte with a suggestion that he do the music for Beaumarchais* 
Le Manage de Figaro, one of the twin peaks of French bouffe drama. 
There were all sorts of objections to this scheme, but they were 
not of the kind to stop this Jewish-born priest, whose rise from the 
most humble origins to the post of Latin secretary and theater poet 
to Josef II had given him confidence in his star. The Emperor had 
forbidden performances of Beaumarchais' play because of its 
radical political implications, and it was thought that this ban 
would be extended to an opera based on it. Also, Mozart had 
reason to fear that Salieri and his other rivals would block the 
staging of any new opera from his pen. Da Ponte, bold in his role 
as Metastasio's admitted successor, was equal to his task: he won 
over the Emperor by sterilizing the play politically, and stymied 
Mozart's rivals. Incidentally, he produced the best libretto that 
ever came Mozart's way. The music itself was finished in April, 
1786, having been written piecemeal amid a welter of bread-and- 
butter projects, among them three magnificent piano concertos. 
Le Nozze di Figaro was produced on May i, and was greeted with 
an ovation that has rarely been surpassed in the annals of opera. 
Practically every number was encored, and cries of "Viva, viva, 
grande Mozart!" came from all parts of the house. 

While there may be four opinions as to which is the best of 
Mozart's operas, there can be no doubt that Figaro teems with 
more memorable music than any of the others indeed, with more 


than almost any other opera ever written. From beginning to end, 
the succession of dazzling numbers is bewildering. To hear the 
opera for the first time is to lose much of its dramatic unity: it 
sounds too much like a mere anthology of celebrated melodies. It 
takes long familiarity with Figaro to realize fully with what con- 
summate art Mozart has combined musical beauty and dramatic 
truth. This breathless pageant of beauty begins with the overture 
(now almost too familiar) , which, with its matchless delicacy, live- 
liness, and wit, sets the atmosphere and pace of what is to follow. 
And so it proceeds, through Figaro's superb martial aria in the 
first act, the Contessa's and Gherubino's lovely music in the 
second, the peerless lament of the Contessa in Act III, and finally 
to Susanna's tender love song in the last act. To choose a favorite 
among these is a task the fact that so many people know "Voi che 
sapete" better than anything else in Figaro is due to its excessive 

The success of this ribald opera did not improve Mozart's finan- 
cial position. He had received a lump sum for its composition, and 
this he ran through as fast as possible. He was living way beyond 
his means, dressing himself and his family in the finest style, and 
occupying part of a mansion in a good quarter of Vienna. His 
rather hectic private life was likewise a drain on his resources, 
physical as well as financial. About this time, he began a series of 
sordid little affairs with sundry women which add a note of am- 
biguity to his otherwise constant affection for Constanze. And she, 
it must be admitted, was not like Caesar's wife, and often had to 
be reproved for giving gossips something to talk about. 

Mozart's extravagant scale of living and his fitful indulgences re- 
quired some sort of stable income that Vienna seemed unwilling to 
provide. After Figaro, the Emperor was as usual vociferous in his 
praise but no official post was forthcoming. In despair, Mozart 
toyed once more with a fantastic idea of seeking his fortune in 
England, and it seems that only a warm invitation to see for him- 
self how well Figaro was faring in Prague kept him from, this ven- 
ture. He accepted with alacrity > and soon he and Constanze, with 
the lordly Thun mansion as their own, were receiving a hearty 
welcome from highborn Praguers. Their reception, in fact, was so 
gratifying that it must have crossed Mozart's mind that here he 
might be both understood and recompensed according to his 
deserts. His presence at a performance of Figaro almost started a 


riot, and when he himself conducted it some days later the plaudits 
of the audience sounded like one vast claque. Equally successful 
were his two concerts, at the first of which he conducted a splendid 
new symphony, the D major, or "Prague 35 (K. 504), whose propor- 
tions suggest a transition from the smaller perfections of the "Haff- 
ner" and "Linz 35 to the more epic structures of the last three sym- 
phonies. Mozart was now the darling of Prague society a state of 
affairs that must have recalled to him the triumphs of his child- 
hood. He no sooner expressed a wish to write an opera for so sym- 
pathetic a public than the delighted impresario who had im- 
ported Figaro handed him a contract. He had to leave Prague 
without the elusive appointment, but for once his pockets were 

Vienna, after the homage of Prague, was cold indeed, and 
Mozart plunged feverishly into the business of the new opera. Da 
Ponte suggested Don Juan as a subject, and (doubtless to get the 
proper atmosphere) sat down with a bottle of Tokay on one hand 
and a pretty girl on the other. At one stage of the writing, when 
the crosscurrents of passion and revenge became one too many for 
him, Da Ponte called in Casanova for expert advice. Mozart, 
while tossing off the best of his string quintets and the luscious 
Sine Heine Nachtmusik, began to rear the superb structure of Don 
Giovanni. In the midst of all this, he received a visitor who must 
have seemed as strange to him as the Stone Guest did to Don Juan. 
This unappetizing young fellow, who looked little more elegant 
than a Flemish lout, sat down at the piano, and improvised with 
such originality that Mozart said solemnly to some other guests, 
"Keep your eyes on him. Some day he will give the world some- 
thing to talk: about." He was right: his caller was Ludwig van 

In September, 1787, the Mozarts returned to Prague for two 
more gala months. The score of Don Giovanni was still unfinished, 
partly because Mozart had been overworked, and partly because 
he had to consult his singers before putting the final touches on 
their arias. The overture was the last number composed, and the 
orchestra had to read it at sight at the final rehearsal.* The pre- 

* Constanze, years later, told her second husband that Mozart had composed the 
overture the night before the final rehearsal. She said that he was so tired that she 
had to freshen him with numerous glasses of punch and the reading of fairy tales. 


miere, on October 29, surpassed the triumphs of Figaro, which was 
still a prime favorite in Prague. Mozart's appearance in the or- 
chestra was announced by a trumpet fanfare that might have 
greeted an imperial personage. The performers, especially the 
singers, seemed to be aware that they were making history, and 
made the presentation electric with their enthusiasm. 

Don Giovanni has drawn to it a host of admirers who think it 
the greatest opera ever written, and they are just as vociferous as 
those who noisily claim this honor for Tristan und Isolde or Pelttas et 
Melisande. Certainly, it is a very exciting opera, with its many 
boldly delineated characters, the rush of events toward inevitable 
destruction, the shifting from comedy to tragedy with the protean 
rhythm of life itself, and the bizarrerie of the ghoulish finale. Don 
Giovanni was new in 1787 it is still new. The Don is the first of the 
countless Byronic heroes who were to crowd the operatic stage 
during the nineteenth century, and his excesses and ruin give us a 
foretaste of what Weber and Meyerbeer will do with their hellish 
librettos. All this romantic folderol is expressed in Mozart's 
highly classical idiom, with a minimum of fustian until the 
finale, when the Commendatore's marble statue accepts the Don's 
invitation to dinner with dire results. Here we are conscious that 
the nineteenth century is only thirteen years away, and the Satanic 
fires that consume the wicked hero's palace lick at the very struc- 
ture of classicism itself. 

But those who hear this romantic note with foreboding have 
been amply compensated in the earlier scenes. It must be admitted 
that the overture is not Mozart at his best, and scarcely prepares 
us for the marvels that are to follow. These begin with Leporello's 
famous catalogue of his master's infidelities, a masterpiece ofbujfa 
and bravura. Ten or fifteen minutes later, we hear "La ci darem 
la mano" a duet of haunting, tender beauty.* Almost with the pro- 
fusion of Figaro , brilliant arias and dramatic concerted numbers 
follow. "// mio tesoro" with its tracery of florid melody, lays claim 
to being the most beautiful aria in the tenor repertoire. But the 

* Re the connection of Don Giovanni with the romantic movement, it is worth not- 
ing that the young Chopin was so enchanted with "La ci darem" that he based a set 
of variations for piano and orchestra (Opus 2) on it. And it was this work, in turn, 
that fired Schumann to write his first published musical essay, with the celebrated 
tag line, "Hats off, gentlemen, a genius !" This essay set off the romantic revolt in 
music criticism. 


most celebrated music from Don Giovanni is not vocal it is the 
Instrumental minuet that closes the first act. The boy Mendelssohn 
gravely informed the venerable Goethe that this minuet was the 
"most beautiful music in the world. 5 ' And though we have heard it 
played on everything from a pipe organ to a hand organ, it would 
not be difficult to agree with him. 

After *tht premiere of Don Giovanni, the Mozarts dallied among the 
appreciative Praguers, and did not return to Vienna until Novem- 
ber 12. Three days later, Gluck died, and a month later, Josef 
II appointed Mozart his new chamber composer. The post carried 
considerable prestige, but Mozart described the emolument as "too 
much for what I do, and too little for what I could do." Gluck had 
received two thousand gulden a year; the emperor gave Mozart 
eight hundred, and this paltry sum was, with the exception of a 
tiny stipend from St. Stephen's that he began to receive in 1791, 
the only assured income he enjoyed. For a time he squandered his 
genius turning out trivial music for court functions charming 
dances that foreshadow Johann Strauss. Altogether, Mozart was 
as near to being in a rut as he ever was in all his life. His feeling of 
neglect was intensified by the cool reception the Viennese ac- 
corded Don Giovanni. Also, his chronic poverty had become acute, 
and he now began that series of begging letters to a fellow Mason 
which is matched in the annals of music only by the more flagrant 
specimens from Wagner's pen. His improdigality far outstripped 
his friend's patient generosity, and when the funds came they were 
mere stopgaps. 

Despite indications to the contrary, Mozart was on the edge of 
the most miraculously fecund period of his life. A few weeks after 
the chilling Vienna first night of Don Giovanni, and while his rival 
Salieri was crowding him off the boards with a very successful 
opera, Mozart began a symphony. As if seized by a divine frenzy, 
he worked for six weeks, and when he laid down his pen, he had 
completed his three unquestioned symphonic masterpieces. There 
are two ways of interpreting this phenomenon: either Mozart 
escaped into music from the sordidness of his life, or his misery put 
him into the vatic state. Interpreted either way, these three last 
symphonies are the triple crown of eighteenth-century orchestral 
music. In deference to Beethoven alone, it is a moot question 
whether they have ever been surpassed. 


The Beethoven symphonies are great as music, but part of their 
enormous popularity is due to the way they lend themselves to 
extramusical interpretation. It is easy to read into them the 
course of Beethoven's; or mankind's struggles. Mozart's sym- 
phonies do not lend themselves to such interpretation, and perhaps 
for that reason they, like Haydn's, have suffered in the estimation 
of the more romantic types of concertgoers. They must be ap- 
proached, and heard, as music alone. Almost all attempts to read 
vast human or superhuman meanings into Mozart show a violent 
lapse of mental discipline. They spring from a refusal, or inability, 
to recognize the intrinsic condition of music as an art, and end, in 
that final reduetio ad absurdum of musical determinism, by erecting 
a certain preconception of Beethoven's symphonies as the only 
ideal. It was this school of misthinkers who thought they were 
praising Brahms by calling his First Symphony "Beethoven's 
Tenth," and who, vaguely realizing that Mozart was a first-rate 
composer, have read all sorts of strange things into his music, 
particularly the last three symphonies. But their wrestlings with 
Mozart's pellucid material produce singularly ludicrous results. 
For instance, just as they are beginning to revel in the connota- 
tions of the vast and mysterious slow introduction to the E fiat 
Symphony, their idea-freighted haze evaporates, and they are left 
with nothing but music. 

Mozart has left no richer or more varied music than these last 
three symphonies. Each of them abounds in inspired musical ideas, 
and each has a distinct musical character of its own, truly amazing 
in view of the circumstances of their composition. After the slow 
grandeur of the introduction, the E flat (K. 543} > which has been 
called the locus classicus of euphony, turns out to be a gay, even 
impudent, work, with but few notes of pensiveness. The instru- 
mental color is especially rich and full of contrasts, with the wind 
instruments playing an unusually important role the E flat was 
the first major work in which clarinets were prominently used. The 
lovely minuet, which is almost as famous as that from Don Giovanni, 
is already half a scherzo Beethoven was to bring the symphonic 
scherzo to adulthood in his Second Symphony, and perfect it in his 
Third. The G minor (K. 550) has suffered somewhat from the 
fact that the first movement is perhaps the most sheerly beautiful 
music ever written, and thus the last three movements have too 


often been shoved into the background of the memory like poor 
relations. Actually, though they lack the inexplicable magic of 
that wonderful allegro, they do their full share toward making 
the G minor a perfectly integrated work of art. This symphony, 
which Eric Blom has called "the work in which classicism and 
romanticism meet and where once and for all we see a perfect 
equilibrium between them," is the most troubled of Mozart's 
symphonies. The pensive note is, for once, tinged with a deeper 
melancholy and weariness. After it, the G major (EL 551) is un- 
troubled, even resurgent. It happens, under the meaningless 
pseudonym of the "Jupiter/ 3 to be the best known of the sym- 
phonies. Also, it is the most patterned and classical of the three: the 
entire structure is based on a series of inspired musical axioms as 
neat and spare as propositions from Euclid. The celebrated finale 
intricately combines five of these themes with a wizardry that 
gives point to the comparison of this movement to a musical chess 
game. The whole symphony is a curious, but completely successful, 
combination of grandeur and high spirits. Altogether, this last of 
Mozart's symphonies has abounding strength and youthfulness, 
and is informed throughout by an athleticism that is rare in the 
rest of his work. 

It is not too strange that these three symphonies, the last of 
which was completed early in August, 1788, seemingly exhausted 
Mozart's best creative powers, and brought on a fallow period that 
lasted almost a whole year. Needless to say, he did not completely 
stop composing: a multitude of dances and minor chamber works 
flowed from his pen, some of them only hack work. He also began 
to "fill out" the instrumental accompaniments of certain of 
Handel's oratorios, notably Messiah, on a commission from Baron 
van Swieten, one of Vienna's most celebrated musical amateurs, 
who later furnished the Hbretto for Haydn's The Creation. Pos- 
sibly too much obloquy has been attached to these refurbishings of 
Handel, but they certainly belong to a very dubious category: it is 
still a question whether any composer, however great, should try- 
to "complete" another composer's work. 

In April, 1789, Mozart set out on a brief tour as the guest of his 
pupil. Prince Karl Lichnowsky. He played successfully before the 
Saxon court at Dresden,, and at Leipzig performed on the very 
organ that Johann Sebastian Bach had used . Greatly moved, the 

154 MEN OF 

Thomascantor, himself Bach's pupil, had the choir perform Singef 
dent Herrn., one of his teacher's six surviving motets. This so trans- 
ported the visitor that he asked to see the parts, exclaiming, 
"Here, for once, is something from which one can learn." The next 
stop was Potsdam, where Frederick the Great's cultivated nephew 
gave Mozart the same eager reception his uncle had accorded 
Bach. Although Mozart criticized the King's band, and heckled 
the orchestra during a performance of his own Entfiihrung, Fried- 
rich Wilhelm tipped him generously, and commissioned him to 
compose six string quartets and also six easy piano sonatas for the 
Princess Royal.* The legend that Mozart turned down the munifi- 
cently paid job of Kapellmeister at Potsdam in deference to Josef 
II is probably sheer fantasy. If he did anything so unlikely, he 
might have felt himself rewarded on his return to Vienna (with 
his pockets mysteriously empty), when the Emperor ordered 
another opera from him and Da Ponte. Cosifan tutte, their new col- 
laboration, was hurried through for the winter season, and pro- 
duced on January 2, 1790. 

Much has been written about Cost fan tutte, and most of that 
much about its libretto, which has been denounced alternately as 
indecent and shallow. There is a grain of truth in both criticisms, 
but only because these elements necessarily have their parts in the 
making of a really comic opera. The libretto is actually quite 
adequate, with its many absurd contretemps. In general plan it 
resembles The Two Gentlemen of Verona with extra characters and 
complications. It is, quite appropriately, the most rococo of 
Mozart's operas a carnival of madcap frivolity and fun from start 
to finish. It is interesting, if irrelevant, to note that Cosifan tutte had 
its premiere just when the horrors of the French Revolution were 
beginning. On this exceedingly flimsy basis, it has been called the 
swan song of the callous, pleasure-mad aristocracy of the eight- 
eenth century (which in Austria went its own pleasure-mad, cal- 
lous way for decades after the French Revolution) . The opera is a 
delightful confection, musically like the sugar icing on a cuckold's 
wedding cake. There are those who think it the best opera Mozart 
ever wrote. 

Cost fan tutte delighted the unscrupulous Viennese. Unfortu- 

* Mozart composed only three "Kong of Prussia" Quartets, and but one of the 


nately, three weeks after the first performance, Josef II died. 
Again Mozart's hopes were dashed. Leopold -II, the new Emperor, 
was violently lukewarm in his attitude toward music, and indiffer- 
ent to Mozart, who was not included in the entourage summoned 
to Frankfort for the coronation. Mozart's actions at this point 
were hysterical. Constanze was ailing, and required expensive 
medical care, he himself had only just recovered from a serious ill- 
ness, and his poverty was becoming unbearable. Yet he pawned 
the few valuables he had left, and gallivanted off to Frankfort 
with the idea of giving concerts while the city was crowded with 
notables. He appeared only once ? when he played the so-called 
"Coronation" Concerto for piano and orchestra (K. 537), which 
he had really written two years before. As usual, there was much 
applause but small financial gain, and the sad tale was repeated 
wherever he stopped to play on his way home. It was a very weary 
and sick man who reached Vienna in November. The following 
month, when Haydn came to see him before leaving for London, 
Mozart wept. He believed, and with reason, that he would not live 
to see his beloved friend's return. 

The early months of 1791 passed uneventfully. In March, 
Mozart ran into an old acquaintance of his Salzburg days, Emanuel 
Schikaneder, a sort of theatrical jack-of-all-trades, who at the 
moment was staging a series of spectacle plays and bawdy farces in 
a large but flimsy auditorium outside the city walls. As he was a 
brother Mason, Schikaneder managed to induce Mozart to set a 
preposterous sheaf of muddled ideas he had gathered from his 
reading and bound together with ill-digested Masonic symbolism. 
Yet this potpourri abounded in situations and characters that 
Mozart could treat effectively. He set to work at once on what was 
to be his last opera, Die %auberflote, and as Constanze was away 
taking treatments at a spa, Schikaneder provided him with a little 
workhouse near the theater, good cheer, and jolly, loose-living 
companions. In July, while he was still toiling on the score, a 
stranger approached him with a commission to write a Requiem 
by a set date. The remuneration was inordinately generous, and 
the anonymous visitor made only one stipulation absolute 
secrecy. Mozart agreed, but with forebodings: he was far from 
well, probably running a fever, and the cadaverous stranger may 


have seemed to him like the Devil ordering him to compose his own 
funeral music. 

No sooner had he started on the Requiem than a third com- 
mission arrived, this time a peremptory request to compose an 
opera for Leopold II's coronation as King of Bohemia at Prague. 
The libretto of La Clemenza di Tito., a humdrum revamping of 
Metastasio, offered little chance to even so resourceful a composer 
as Mozart. Also, he was a sick man living on his will power, and 
had to complete La Clemenza in less than two months. To make him 
even more agitated, just as he was stepping into the Prague coach 
the cadaverous stranger reappeared, and asked him how the 
Requiem was progressing. Muttering that he would finish it 
when he returned, Mozart got inside, and with a strange feeling 
that all was not well, took up the sketches for La Clemenza, the 
actual writing of which he completed in Prague in eighteen days. 
He was so rushed that the recitatives had to be entrusted to his 
friend and pupil, Franz Siissmayr. At its premiere, on September 6 > 
La Clemenza di Tito was a failure- and only partly because the court 
was exhausted after the rigors of the coronation. It is apiece d* occa- 
sion in the worst sense of the phrase. Outside of an impressive 
overture., a brilliant soprano aria, and a couple of duets, it clearly 
shows the strain under which the composer was working. 

Mozart returned to Vienna in bad health and dejected spirits, 
which did not prevent him from pouring his failing energy into 
the completion of Die auberfldte, which was first produced at 
Schikaneder's Theater auf der Wieden on September 30. At first 
the work was received coldly, but so rapidly gained in popularity 
that it was repeated twenty-four times in October alone. Its ab- 
surd stage business was probably more responsible for its success 
than the music today it is the other way round. With the excep- 
tion of Idomeneo, it is, for all its many lapses into tomfoolery, sus- 
tained on loftier heights than Mozart's other operas. The overture, 
a work of the most solemn beauty despite its rapid tempo, elo- 
quently tells us that we are to hear a work of serious import. And 
so it is, for even the most farcical passages had originally a symbolic 
significance, and are couched in Mozart's most sensitive idiom. 
Die %auberfl'6te makes use of many musical styles, and yet achieves 
an effect of unity. The fact that anything can, and does, happen in 
this Cloud-Cuckoo-Land is matched by the variety of musical ey- 


position. And though the dramatis personae are but symbols, they 
run the widest gamut of character that Mozart ever exploited in 
one opera, from the grave, almost unctuous priest, Sarastro, to 
that delicious eighteenth-century Touchstone, Papageno. 

Bernard Shaw has somewhere said that Mozart gave Sarastro 
the only music that would not sound out of place in the mouth of 
God. Be that as it may, the smug high priest sings two of the 
noblest arias ever written for the bass voice "0 Isis und Osiris" 
and "In diesen heir gen Hdien" the first of which has a majesty and 
foursquareness traceable to Mozart's study of Handel. The Queen 
of the Night, the very personification of evil, curses her daughter* 
in a strikingly florid and taxing coloratura aria, "Der holle Roche" 
Listened to carelessly, this aria sounds much like, and just as 
empty as, the "Bell Song" from Lakme, but under its elegant sur- 
faces a dark and icy fiendishness lies coiled. The Queen's namby- 
pamby daughter and the birdman, Papageno, have a lusciously 
tender duet, "Eei Manner^ welche Liebefuhlen" which might have 
escaped from the most amorous pages of Figaro. As Schikaneder 
played Papageno in the original production, this personage has 
more music than the role calls for dramatically, but Ms songs are 
farce of such high order that they never fail to bring down the 
house, particularly in the celebrated "stuttering duet 5 '! with his 
feather-covered and featherbrained mate, Papagena. Thus, Die 
%auberflote has something for every taste* But the final appeal of this 
fairy opera with a moral is the beauty, range, and aptness of its 

With this last of his operas off his hands, Mozart collapsed. He 
was desperately ill (of Blight's disease, it has been conjectured)^ 
and not even the news of Die ^auberftote^ growing success could, 
rouse him from despondency, Constanze's absence did not help: in 
his misery and torture, he needed someone with him constantly. 
He turned feverishly to the Requiem, and worked on it with 
desperate concentration. He began to have fainting spells. Fortu- 
nately, late in October the still-ailing Constanze returned, bring- 

* A strange situation indeed, considering that the Queen of the Night, in the 
libretto's tortured symbolism, has been identified with the family-loving Maria 

f The prolonged ovation that greeted this duet, one memorable evening at the 
Chicago Auditorium, held Marcella Sembrich, as the Queen of the Night, in the 
wings so long that she refused ever again to sing in that city. 


ing her youngest sister to nurse both herself and Mozart. She 
realized how sick he was, and unsuccessfully tried to make him 
stop work on the Requiem. A new horror now gripped his mind: 
being unable to diagnose his disease naturally (it may have been 
nothing more than overwork and malnutrition combined), he 
developed a fixed idea that he had been poisoned by Salieri.* 
Every evening, when theater time came around, he followed in 
imagination the performance of Die auberflote, timing . it with a 
watch. Within a few weeks it was evident that he was fatally ill, 
and yet so amazing were his recuperative powers that on Novem- 
ber 15 he finished a Masonic cantata, and even conducted it a few 
days later. 

Relapse was almost immediate. He continued to work fitfully at 
the Requiem even when racked with pain. Sxissmayr and other 
friends came in occasionally to sing parts of it with him. On 
December 4, during one of these gatherings, just as they were be- 
ginning the Lacrymosa, Mozart began to sob, and they had to stop. 
Before the day was over, he was partly paralyzed. A priest came to 
administer the last sacraments, and Mozart said good-by to his 
family. He then gave some last instructions to Siissmayr about the 
still-unfinished Requiem, and to the very end seemed preoccupied 
with it, trying to sing, and even puffing out his cheeks in an at- 
tempt to imitate the trumpets. Just after midnight, he died quietly. 
It was the morning of December 5, 1791. 

Constanze, too shattered to think, automatically followed the 
sensible advice of the penurious Van Swieten to bury her husband 
as cheaply as possible. On December 6, during a rainstorm that 
prevented both Constanze and Mozart's friends from going to the 
potter's field, his body was cast, with the remains of a dozen other 
paupers, into a common grave. When Constanze tried to find the 
spot some time later, no one could tell her where it was. Almost 
seventy years afterward, the city of Vienna erected a fine memorial 
on the probable site. 

The Requiem, Mozart's last musical testament, remained a col- 
lection of fragments and sketches until Constanze, who seems to 
have been injected with a strong dose of good sense as soon as her 

* Pushkin used this absurd idea as the basis for a dramatic duologue, which 
Rimsky-Korsakov later made into an opera. Salieri was so hounded by the rumor 
that he took the trouble on his deathbed to send for Ignaz Moscheles, and officially 
deny the story. 


husband died, finally entrusted it to Siissmayr, who knew more 
than anyone else about Mozart's intentions concerning it. Suss- 
mayr filled out the work with sections of his own composition, but 
doubtless oriented to his master's hints. Thus, the present work is in 
design not too unlike what it might have been had Mozart lived to 
complete it whatever one may think of Sussmayr's own pas- 
sages. It was delivered to the mysterious stranger, who turned out 
to be Count Franz von Walsegg's major-domo, as being entirely 
by Mozart. The Count then had it performed as a composition of 
his own which had been his original intention. Thus the Requiem 
came into the world as a double forgery, which was partly revealed 
when Constanze allowed it to be performed, and then published, 
under Mozart's name. The parts that are unquestionably Mozart's, 
notably the Kyrie, are passionate and tragic, and rise to moments 
of great beauty. But they are informed by the hectic glow of a sick 
mind. Let us face the facts squarely: much of the Requiem (when 
it is not from Sussmayr's earnest but mediocre pen) is tortured in 
expression and painful to hear. It is easy to believe that Mozart 
composed this twisted, self-searching, and self-revealing music 
with his own funeral in mind. It was played thirty-six years later 
at the solemn High Mass for the repose of the soul of Ludwig van 

Myths die hard, and bad myths are just as tenacious of life as 
good ones. Alexander the Great, Leonardo, and Beethoven have 
given rise to myths that are constantly renewed by their essential 
truth. The Mozart myth is another matter: it is a bad myth with 
just enough truth in it to make it linger on. It presents Mozart as a 
perpetual child, dowered with an infallible and limitless tech- 
nique, composing a great variety of delightful but empty music. 
Now, Mozart wrote a vast deal, much of which almost all, in- 
deed, of that written before 1780 can accurately be described as 
delightful but empty. And even some of his finest compositions are 
marred by uninspired passagework which has about as much sig- 
nificance as a Czerny finger exercise in this respect, Haydn, who 
has often been criticized for his abuse of the technical cliche, erred 
far less than Mozart. Yes, the myth has a core of truth. The amaz- 
ing thing is that it has persisted whole in the face of the pure gold 
that it overlooks. The simplest of the many possible refutations of 


the eternal-child myth is to cite the last three symphonies, which 
impinge upon almost every conceivable emotion. These are in- 
dubitably the expressions of a mature and abounding personality. 
What has blinded many to Mozart's emotional range and pro- 
fundity is the fact that its expression is so perfectly disciplined: they 
have fallen into the fatal error of gauging emotional expression 
by a preconceived norm the seeming indiscipline of the best 
romantic art. 

A more serious doubt has been cast on Mozart's place as the 
peer of Bach and Beethoven. W. J. Turner, who yielded to none in 
his worship of Mozart, was the most perfectly articulate spokesman 
of those who find him lacking one essential which, together with 
his other, unquestioned, qualities, would add up to sublimity. 
Speaking of the notorious lapse in mood (almost inexplicable on 
the basis of taste alone) in the finale of the G minor Quintet (K. 
516), he said, "That finale is beyond all denial inadequate. Why? 
Because after the poignant, heart-breaking intensity of the slow 
movement some affirmation of the soul is inexorably demanded. 
Mozart could not make that affirmation. He could not even attempt 
to make it ... he had no faith, he could not lift up his heart and 
sing from the bottom of that abyss. . . * Therefore, and therefore 
only, he is not the world's greatest composer."* This argument is 
based on that ethical approach (more widely held in the nine- 
teenth century of Ruskin and Tolstoi than now) which conceives 
the greatest artist to be he who struggles most desperately in the 
waste places of the soul, and emerges singing the song of faith and 
triumph. Without entering into the validity of this point of view, it 
is clear that to those who hold it, Mozart must ever seem, in this 
respect, inadequate. 

However, even this criticism might have been obviated had 
Mozart lived but a few years longer. The last years of his life saw 
his art deepening, becoming more searching of self and things, 
turning toward those sources of inspiration that can lead to the 
hymning of life entire. What these sources were, it is as impossible 
to know in Mozart's case as in Beethoven's. But everything in- 
dicates that this still-young man, who so sorely needed a vacation 

*Thus Turner in Volume I of The Heritage of Music (London, 1927). In Mozart: 
the Man and His Works (New York, 1938)* he allowed his hero no limitations at all 


and a little more food, had not yet reached the summit of his 
genius, and was on the verge of new and tremendous under- 
takings. There was no sign of abatement in that matchless flood of 
musical ideas, he was the greatest musical technician of all times, 
and he died at thirty-six, an age at which Bach and Beethoven 
were still preparing for their supreme masterpieces. Mozart died 
in the moment of victory but before he could make his affirmation, 
as he himself knew: 

"I am at the point of death. I have finished before I could enjoy 
my talent. Yet life is so beautiful, my career opened so auspiciously 
but fate is not to be changed. ... I thus finish my funeral song 
I must not leave it uncompleted." 

Chapter VII 

Ludwig van Beethoven 

(Bonn, December 16, lyyo-March 263 1827, Vienna) 

THE history of music offers no experience comparable to that 
sense of an expanding universe afforded by the masterpieces oi 
Ludwig van Beethoven. With the advent of this titanic presence, 
there is an abrupt break with the past that has few parallels in the 
entire history of art. The essential Beethoven was completely un^ 
prepared for. His great predecessors, from Palestrina to Mozart, 
were men without whom the musical structure he found, honored, 
and changed could not have been reared, but only insofar as they 
gave him his tools was he in their debt. These men, master musi- 
cians though they were, had been the creatures of an ordered uni- 
verse. Their reactions to it had been as various as their characters; 
they had praised it, accepted it, or disregarded it but in no case 
did they question it. Even Haydn, who was Beethoven's con- 
temporary for almost forty years, and who passed the fullness of 
his maturity during the French Revolution, never questioned the 
ideas of the times that had molded him. But Beethoven, who came 
of age at the very high noon of the Terror, passed through the 
refiner's fire of this crucial chaotic epoch: the flames of liberty, 
equality, and fraternity blazed hot against his face, and seared him 
for life. 

Beethoven is the first, and in some respects the only, composer 
who stepped outside the frame of his art, to live wholly and hero- 
ically in the world. He could not be content merely to write music: 
unrest was in his soul, and doubt which in its savage intensity 
made the polite skepticism of the eighteenth century seem puny. 
Thought pursued him like a nemesis he could not get away from 
it. His wrestling with destiny, not only his own but that of man- 
kind, is one of the great epics of the modern world: he told it in a 
succession of mighty works which, in their boundless humanity 
and immediacy of appeal, have never been equaled. By his 
struggles, Beethoven became one of the heroes of mankind; by his 
triumphs, he has become one of its prophets. 

He was born at one of those strange moments of history when 



nature spews forth genius with an inexplicable lavishness. The 
time was, for better or worse., fateful for the shaping of life and art. 
Napoleon, whose ambitions created the French Empire and untold 
misery; Wordsworth, who gave the new age a voice; Beethoven, 
who lifted music to a new grandeur these three men, born within 
seventeen months, were to play great parts in the vast drama that 
ushered in the nineteenth century. Napoleon, the revolutionary, 
became the autocrat of Europe, and died shorn of ideals and power 
alike; the generous-souled Wordsworth ended up a timeserving 
poet laureate; Beethoven alone had the strength and the integrity to 
die as he had lived faithful to the daemon that had moved him. 
His life has been painted as a tragedy, but he had the only kind of 
success that could really have mattered to him. 

The times, certainly, were propitious for shaping the sort of 
stormy genius Beethoven was, and his heredity and early environ- 
ment were equally so. The Beethovens had been musicians for two 
generations: Ludwig, the grandfather, who rose to be Kapell- 
meister to the Elector of Cologne, also carried on a thriving wine 
business; his son Johann, a singer in the Elector's choir, was, by the 
time of his marriage to a young widow, more celebrated for his 
drinking than for his voice. Thus, at Ludwig's cradle there were as 
many wicked fairies as good ones: from his Grandfather Beethoven 
he inherited a certain physical toughness on which he could rely 
to see him through the energy-burning crises of his life, as well as 
an earnest consciousness of good and evil. To his Grandmother 
Beethoven and his father, both of whom became hopeless drunk- 
ards, he owed those erratic, fevered qualities which played a salient 
role in the development of his art, and which always made him a 
difficult person. 

Beethoven first saw the light of day in Bonn, and in this lazy 
old Rhenish town he passed a miserably unhappy boyhood. The 
Beethovens were desperately poor: Johannes three hundred 
florins a year was barely sufficient to support a childless couple, 
and in twenty years of married life he fathered seven children, of 
whom three boys reached manhood. Johann, originally a genial 
fellow, developed swinish habits and a nasty temper. Yet his 
father believed that this brute had lowered himself by marrying 
a mere cook's daughter, though to the Elector musicians and 
cooks were equally servants. Actually, Frau van Beethoven was 


many cuts above her husband a sympathetic and intelligent 
woman whose calm acceptance of a painful status quo alone kept a 
semblance of order in the household. She never complained, but it 
is little wonder that she was never seen to smile. 

There was never any question which parent Beethoven pre- 
ferred. To him his mother was a beneficent deity the only gra- 
cious thing in his wretched childhood. Johann, whose treatment of 
his wife was insensitive, was harsh and unimaginative in his deal- 
ings with his eldest son. In his frenzied quest for a further source of 
income, he hit upon the idea of making Ludwig a child prodigy 
after the pattern of Mozart. Leopold Mozart may justly be accused 
of putting his son through a forcing-house, but his method was 
gentle, and he was motivated, at least partly, by a burning love for 
music. But to Johaim van Beethoven music was merely a trade 
and he set Ludwig to learning it -he evidently thought that 
Mozarts could be produced at will. He himself undertook the job 
of turning out the Wurderkind^ and at first his hopes seemed sure 
of fulfillment, for at six the boy had learned to perform creditably 
on the piano and violin. In 1778, Johann gave the public its first 
chance to hear the prodigy he had been preparing for them, slyly 
announcing Ludwig as two years younger than he really was. The 
sole resxilt of what probably was a fiasco (in view of the complete 
silence as to its effect) was that Ludwig got a new teacher. But this 
quavering old feEow could teach him nothing, and soon yielded to 
one of Johann's rowdy pals, a tenor named Pfeiffer who lodged in 
die same house as the Beethovens. His method of teaching was 
unique: he would come roaring home in the middle of the night 
after a round of the taverns with Johann, and get Ludwig out of 
bed for his lesson. The picture of the small, sleepy lad pestered by 
his music teacher and his father is absurdly like that of the im- 
mortal Dormouse plagued by the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. 
No wonder Beethoven was an indifferent scholar during the few 
years he attended common school! Nor was the proud and self- 
willed lad apt to respond to these repressive methods as his father 
tad hoped. 

And yet, develop Beethoven did, though too slowly for a bona 
fide prodigy. Teachers came and went, none of them very able or 
inspiring, and a time arrived when these ninth-raters could teach 
Mm nothing. He was ten years old before he found a master worthy 


of his talents Christian Gottlob Neefe, the newly appointed court 
organist. Neefe was a conservative, but he worshiped music, and 
his taste was sure. He immediately set Beethoven to studying 
a handwritten copy of The Well-Tempered Clavichord, then still un- 
published., and thus initiated his lifelong interest in Bach. Neefe 
believed in the urchin; he educated him painstakingly, and stimu- 
lated his natural flair for composing by having a juvenile effort 
published. Beethoven made such rapid progress that in 1 783 Neefe 
said in a magazine article, "If he goes on as he has begun, he will 
certainly become a second Mozart." After a year's instruction, 
Beethoven was able to deputize for Neefe at the organ; after Neefe's 
duties became heavier, he sometimes led the opera orchestra from 
the clavier. The job was unpaid, the experience invaluable. Beetho- 
ven never forgot Neefe's unfailing kindness. In 1792, with a touch 
of characteristic self-assurance and grandiloquence, he wrote to his 
old teacher, "I thank you for your counsel very often given me in 
the course of my progress in my divine art. If ever I become a great 
man, yours will be some of the credit," and the delighted Neefe 
published the letter in the Berliner Musik-^eitung. 

Beethoven soon got his first big chance. In 1784, the Elector 
died, and Maria Theresa's youngest son succeeded him. In the 
shuffling of appointments that ensued, Neefe's thirteen-year-old 
pupil was appointed assistant court organist at a salary of one 
hundred and fifty florins a year* Johann van Beethoven's reactions 
must have mingled relief with chagrin: Ludwig was adding to the 
family income, but the Elector seemingly did not value Johann's 
services enough to raise his pay. Young Beethoven did his job so 
well that for a time there was talk of his taking Neefe' s place. He 
began to lead a full life in a Bonn that was reawakening artistically 
and intellectually under the enlightened rule of the Elector Maxi- 
milian Franz. In the spring of 1787, Beethoven, had his first taste 
of a truly cosmopolitan culture, when he visited Vienna, presum- 
ably on funds advanced by a patron. He met Mozart, who spoke 
flatteringly of his playing, and possibly gave the boy lessons in 
composition, though in mourning for his father and hard at work 
on Don Giovanni. Beethoven was recalled to Bonn by news of his 
mother's illness; letters, more and more alarming, reached him 
on the road, but he found her still alive, though in intense agony. 


She was in the last stages of consumption, and died a few weeks 

The death of his mother, whom Beethoven had adored, brought 
on the first of those emotional crises that recurred constantly 
throughout his life. He gave way to gloomy forebodings; he suf- 
fered from attacks of asthma the neurotic's disease par excellence 
and feared that it would develop into consumption. Throughout 
life Beethoven was fortunate in his friends: now he was gradually 
coaxed back to mental health by the sympathetic interest and pa- 
tient care of the noble Von Breuning family, the first in that pro- 
cession of long-suffering Samaritans who, despite his outbursts of 
arrogance and downright rudeness, ministered untiringly to his 
difficult needs. Frau von Breuning was a second mother to Beetho- 
ven, who was admitted on terms of absolute equality with her chil- 
dren to the cultural freemasonry of their fine home. He passed 
through its portals as into a friendly university, and there laid the 
foundation for the obsessing intellectual interests of his life. Scarcely 
less decisive was his friendship with Count Ferdinand von Wald- 
stein, who gave him his first piano, and generously opened his 
purse when the finances of the Beethovens were at lowest ebb. 
With exquisite tact, he pretended that these moneys were gratui- 
ties from his friend the Elector. 

Beethoven was happy until, after a day . of court duty and time 
with his friends, he turned in at his own door in the Wenzelgasse. 
There, as like as not, he would find his father in a drunken stupor, 
and his two younger brothers neglected and unfed. Johann van 
Beethoven was no longer a responsible person. At his wits 5 end, in 
November, 1789, the nineteen-year-old Ludwig successfully peti- 
tioned the Elector to divert half of Johann's salary to himself, and 
make him legal head of the family. This desperate measure worked, 
and with his domestic affairs on the mend, Beethoven could plunge 
wholeheartedly into his increasingly engrossing duties. The Elec- 
tor, after settling the troubled finances of his domains, felt himself 
justified in indulging his desire for a large musical establishment. 
Considering his enormous bulk (he eventually became the fattest 
man in Europe), his energy was astonishing: in a trice, he had or- 
ganized an operatic troupe and an orchestra of thirty-one pieces 
that rivaled the famous Mannheim ensemble. Before 1792, when 
it was dispersed, the opera company achieved a large repertoire, 


including works by Gluck, Mozart, and Salieri. Beethoven, as viola 
player in the band, came to know intimately a wide variety of 
dramatic music. The young bear was well liked by his fellows, and 
seems to have played a leading part in their off-hours fun. 

Toward the end of his life in Bonn, Beethoven achieved a posi- 
tion of local eminence out of proportion to his accomplishments as 
an- instrumentalist. This can only have been due to many of his 
compositions being circulated in autograph among his friends, in- 
cluding some that were not published until years in some cases, 
many years later in Vienna. Neefe was not the only one in Bonn 
who thought that Beethoven would one day be the peer of Mozart. 
It is not surprising, then, that in July, 1792, when Haydn passed 
through Bonn on his return from London, Beethoven was espe- 
cially commended to him. Haydn praised a cantata that Beethoven 
submitted for criticism, and encouraged him to continue his stud- 
ies. This kind word from music's dictator released a spring in 
Beethoven: Vienna, with lessons from Haydn practically assured, 
irresistibly beckoned him. Waldstein and Neefe pled his case with 
the Elector, who consented to finance the hegira. By November, 
Beethoven was on his way and none too soon: just two days be- 
fore he left Bonn forever, the Elector himself had fled, for the 
troops of revolutionary France were marching on his capital. 

As the Elector's troubles delayed the payment of his official sti- 
pend, Beethoven was hard pressed at first. Only a fraction of the 
special grant ever reached him, and he had to dig into his small 
savings to make ends meet. Things were complicated by his fa- 
ther's death in December. It seemed momentarily that the pen- 
sion, which had been earmarked for the support of Beethoven's 
brothers, would be stopped, but the Elector, after returning to 
Bonn, continued it until he was chased out again in 1794. Haydn 
charged Beethoven almost nothing five sessions with him came 
to less than a dollar. But Beethoven was dissatisfied: apart from the 
difficulties arising from their totally divergent temperaments, he 
was annoyed by Haydn's desultory conduct of the lessons. The 
student was avid to crowd in as much learning as possible; the 
master was preoccupied with a new repertoire for his second Eng- 
lish tour. Beethoven secretly began to take lessons from a solid 
pedagogue. Although Haydn invited him to go on the English tour, 
it nevertheless seems that an open rupture was avoided only by 


Haydn's departure. Perhaps the most eloquent comment on this 
abortive association of two great musicians is Beethoven's refusal 
to put the phrase "Pupil of Josef Haydn" on some of his early 
publications when his old teacher requested him to do so. That no 
simple explanation covers the situation is proved by the fact that 
though Beethoven inscribed his first three piano sonatas to Haydn, 
he said in his downright way that he had never learned anything 
from him, 

Beethoven adapted himself to Viennese life with remarkable 
alacrity. He had come armed with many valuable letters of intro- 
duction from Count von Waldstein and the Von Breunings, and 
within a short time he numbered most of the influential patrons of 
music among his acquaintances- The doors of Vienna's most splen- 
did palaces swung open to Mm, Prince Lobkowitz, Baron van 
Swieten, the Esterhazys, and Prince Karl Lichnowsky were proud 
to call him friend. Within little more than a twelvemonth he was 
installed in Lichnowsky's fine lodgings in the same house where he 
had formerly occupied a garret room. He was comparatively afflu- 
ent: some of his stipend had been restored, pupils were beginning 
to seek him out, aad his already famous improvising made him a 
favorite society attraction. The seven years after he left Bonn were 
the most carefree of his life. He was still the same "small, thin, 
dark-complexioned, pockmarked, dark-eyed, bewigged young mu- 
sician," who, as his tireless biographer, Thayer, says, "journeyed 
to the capital to pursue the study of his art ..." But the sinewy 
form was carefully, even elegantly^ tricked out in the most fashion- 
able clothes available. 

Beethoven was enjoying society, but he never neglected music 
for a moment. He was taking lessons on three instruments, study- 
ing counterpoint with the noted theorist, Johann Georg Al- 
brechtsberger, amplifying sketches made in Bonn, and composing 
new works. Into the notebooks he had begun to keep before he was 
out of his teens, he now began to crowd that welter of musical 
ideas, in all stages of development, which make the notebooks 
comparable to Leonardo's. To examine them is to be vouchsafed 
a unique opportunity to see the unfolding hesitant, baffled^ and 
inspired of genius. Starting with what may seem an unpromising, 
even banal, sequence of notes, adding to them, subtracting, em- 
phasizing, finally perfecting, Beethoven worked sometimes for 


decades at these viable fragments. Many a composition which 
seems like the product of a single mighty inspiration was pieced to- 
gether from these apparently unrelated sketches. In a very real 
sense, it may be said that from the very beginning of his creative 
life, Beethoven was at work on all of his compositions. There is evi- 
dence that even the publication of a masterpiece (which may sound 
well-nigh perfect to us) did not free Beethoven's mind of the prob- 
lems it presented. His life is one endless quest for the ideal form 
that would completely express the unity he had envisioned from 
the beginning. 

Anyone watching the progress of Beethoven's career during those 
first years in Vienna would have been almost sure to assume that 
he was well on the way to becoming the leading piano virtuoso of 
his age. He routed all comers who dared measure their powers 
against his. One of his noted rivals once burst out in sernicomic 
exasperation, "Ah, he's no man he's a devil. He will play me and 
all of us to death. 5 * His improvisations, which were the sensation of 
Vienna, have made him the subject of thoughtless and invidious 
comparisons with Liszt, whose public pianism was as theatrical as 
Beethoven's was grave and sincerely emotional. In March, 1795, 
he made his first public appearance at a benefit concert, playing 
his own B flat Concerto for piano and orchestra, which he had 
finished two days 1 before. His fame, which had hitherto been con- 
fined to the palaces of the nobility, now became public property. 

During the next three years, Beethoven was in and out of Vi- 
enna, often in Prince Lichnowsky's company, playing at various 
places in Austria, Germany, and Hungary. Prague took to him as 
rapturously as it had to Mozart, and there he probably first played 
his G major Concerto for piano and orchestra. The B flat Con- 
certo, with its elegant pretensions, is a shallow and thankless work, 
and is rightly neglected. The C major represents a decided ad- 
vance:* though it does not show Beethoven in full command of 
his own style, and teems with echoes of Haydn and Mozart, it has 
just as many touches that show that no one but Beethoven could 
have written it. The final rondo is a triumph of his most bravura 
style, with a subtle duality of character: passages of delicate, urbane 
wit alternate with robust hurly-burly and Papa Haydn cracking 

* The G major Concerto, though referred to as the First, was really composed 
two years after the B flat the so-called Second, 


his most outrageous jokes. Beethoven may have been telling the 
exact truth when he said that he had learned nothing from Haydn's 
teaching, but that he learned much from Haydn's music is as evi- 
dent in the C major Concerto as in the first three piano sonatas 
(Opus 2). Many of their themes are pure Haydn, but the develop- 
ment is Beethoven in its direction and peculiar unexpectedness: it 
seems as if he faithfully follows his model up to a certain point, and 
then begins to reflect, to examine the themes from every angle, and 
to tell us what he finds in them. 

Beethoven, as compared with Mozart, evolved slowly. The sec- 
ond group of piano sonatas (Opus 10), published when he was 
twenty-seven, show that he was well on the way to achieving his 
own characteristic treatment of material, but had not yet found 
the sort of material we now consider typically Beethovian. If 
Mozart had died at twenty-seven, he would still be regarded as 
one of the masters; had Beethoven died at the same age, he would 
now probably be forgotten an item in a musical dictionary. The 
story of his life lends weight to the widely held theory that great 
art flowers out of suffering: happiness did not release his genius 
only when he began to suffer was its whole strength unloosed. In 
1798, possibly as the result of a severe illness, he began to have 
trouble with his hearing. At first, it was a mere humming in his 
ears, and he paid slight attention to it. But it recurred again and 
again, and he began to brood over it, to consult doctors. Can it be 
more than coincidence that he composed the Sonata "Pathttique" 
at this time? The famous ten-bar introduction is precisely the sort 
of material around which the vast dramas of the later Beethoven 
were to be built. But like so many transitional works, it lacks in- 
evitability of development. Its beauties are isolated, and much is 
brought forth that may be dismissed as fustian. The tragedy is still 
on the surface: the general effect is one of attitudinizing, the final 
result melodrama, which is particularly out of place in a sonata. 

The close of the century coincided with the end of Beethoven's 
apprenticeship, for at that time he first brought forward works in- 
dicating beyond question that greatness was in him. Within three 
years, he was to stake his claim, and carve out a province un- 
matched in its variety of landscape, from broad and undulating 
champaigns to alps of most terrific grandeur. On April 2, 1800, at 
the first of his own public concerts, he inaugurated that unparai- 


leled series of nine symphonies which are still, after more than a 
century, far and away the most stupendous, and yet familiar, mas- 
terpieces in this form. He limited the program to Haydn, Mozart, 
and two new works of his own the Septet for strings and wind 
instruments and the First (G major) Symphony. The Septet, now 
seldom heard, had such a persistent success that in later years 
Beethoven, who did not regard it highly, could not bear to hear it 
praised. It is a pleasant, melodious creation, lovingly enough con- 
structed, but conventional in outline definitely second-rate Beetho- 
ven. Nor can much more be claimed for the C major Symphony, 
which is light in caliber, eighteenth century in flavor. It is a tech- 
nically sure first essay, but the problems raised are relatively sim- 
ple. For all its charm and moments of cheerful noisiness, it is 
merely hear able, not memorable, music. 

The First Symphony, which today strikes us as a Mozartian 
echo, shocked the Viennese at whatever points the real Beethoven 
was apparent. He himself was dissatisfied for different reasons. 
In 1 80 1, however, he quite captivated the city with an overture 
and incidental music to a ballet. Die Geschopfe des Prometheus. The 
cheery little overture, also derivative from Mozart, is still occa- 
sionally heard. These lighthearted illustrations of scenes from the 
life of a suffering demigod are (a few potboilers aside) almost 
Beethoven's last incursion into the realm of the frivolous. The very 
next year, he said decisively, "I am not contented with my work 
so far; henceforth I shall take a new path." 

The reasons that prompted Beethoven to make such an aggres- 
sive pronunciamento are as simple and as complex as those which 
led him to write, in October, 1802, that tortured, almost hysterical 
farewell to the world known as the "Heiligenstadt Testament" be- 
cause it was written while he was rusticating at that village near 


O ye men, who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or mis- 
anthropic, how greatly do ye wrong me, you do not know the secret 
causes of my seeming, from childhood my heart and mind were disposed 
to the gentle feeling of good will, I was even ever eager to accomplish 
great deeds, but reflect now that for 6 years I have been in a hopeless 
case, aggravated by senseless physicians, cheated year after year in the 


hope of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting 
malady (whose cure will take years, or, perhaps, be impossible), born 
with an ardent and lively temperament, even susceptible to the diver- 
sions of society, I was compelled early to isolate myself, to live in loneli- 
ness, when I at times tried to forget all this, O how harshly was I re- 
pulsed by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing, and yet it was 
impossible for me to say to men speak louder, shout,, for I am deaf. 
Ah how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which should 
have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once 
possessed in highest perfection, a perfection such as few surely in my 
profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed O I cannot do it, therefore for- 
give me when you see me draw back when I would gladly mingle 
with you, my misfortune is doubly painful because it must lead to my 
being misunderstood, for me there can be no recreation in society of my 
fellows, refined intercourse, mutual ex-change of thought, only just as 
little as the greatest needs command may I mix with society, I must live 
like an exile, if I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, a 
fear that I may be subjected to the danger of letting my condition be ob- 
served thus it has been during the last half year which I spent in the 
country, commanded by my intelligent physician to spare my hearing 
as much as possible, in this almost meeting my present natural disposi- 
tion, although I sometimes ran counter to it, yielding to my inclination 
for society, but what a humiliation when one stood beside rne and heard 
a flute in the distance and J heard nothing or someone heard the shepherd 
singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the 
verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life 
only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the 
world until I had produced all that I felt called upon to produce, and so 
I endured this wretched existence truly wretched, an excitable bod/ 
which a sudden change can throw from the best into the worst state 
Patience It is said I must now choose for my guide, I have done so, I 
hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it pleases the 
inexorable parcae to break the thread, perhaps I shall get better, per- 
haps not, I am prepared. Forced already in my 2 8th year to become a 
philosopher, O it is not easy, less easy for the artist than for any one else 
Divine One thou lookest into my inmost soul, thou knowest it, thou 
knowest that love of man and desire to do good live therein. O men, 
when some day you read these words, reflect that ye did me wrong and 
let the unfortunate one comfort himself and find one of his kind who 
despite all the obstacles of nature yet did all that was in his power to be 
accepted among worthy artists and men. You my brothers Karl and 
[Johann] as soon as I am dead if Dr. Schmid is still alive ask him in nry 


name to describe my malady and attach this document to the history of 
my illness so that so far as is possible at least the world may become 
reconciled with me after my death. At the same time I declare you two 
to be the heirs to my small fortune (if so it can be called) , divide it fairly, 
bear with and help each other, what injury you have done me you know 
was long ago forgiven. To you brother Karl I give special thanks for the 
attachment you have displayed toward me of late. It is my wish that 
your lives may be better and freer from care than I have had, recom- 
mend virtue to your children, it alone can give happiness, not money, I 
speak from experience, it was virtue that upheld me in misery, to it 
next to my art I owe the fact that I did not end my life by suicide 
Farewell and love each other I thank all my friends, particularly 
Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmid I desire that the instruments 
from Prince L. be preserved by one of you but let no quarrel result from 
this, so soon as they can serve you a better purpose sell them, how glad 
will I be if I can still be helpful to you in my grave with joy I hasten 
toward death if it comes before I shall have had an opportunity to 
show all my artistic capacities it will still come too early for me despite 
my hard fate and I shall probably wish that it had come later but even 
then I am satisfied, will it not free me from a state of endless suffering? 
Gome when thou wilt I shall meet thee bravely Farewell and do not 
wholly forget me when I am dead. I deserve this of you in having often 
in life thought of you how to make you happy, be so 


Heiglnstadt [sic], [seal] 

October 6th, 

For my brothers Karl and [ Johann] 
to be read and executed after my death. 

Heiglnstadt, October loth, 1802, thus do I take my farewell of thee 
and indeed sadly yes that beloved hope which I brought with me 
when I came here to be cured at least in a degree I must wholly 
abandon, as the leaves of autumn fall and are withered so hope has been 
blighted, almost as I came I go away even the high courage which 
often inspired me in the beautiful days of summer has disappeared O 
Providence grant me at last but one day of purejVy it is so long since 
real joy echoed in my heart O when O when, O Divine One shall I 
feel it again in the temple of nature and man Never? no O that 
would be too hard. 

The most obvious thing about this tragic document (which was 
never sent, but was found among Beethoven's papers) is his in- 


coherent anguish at the probability that he would go completely 
deaf. There would come a time, he knew, when he nevermore 
would hear except within himself the music that was his reason 
for being, a time when he would be cut off from the world. Reason 
enough, then for such an outpouring! But the "Testament" yields 
up another, hidden message tending to corroborate outside evi- 
dence that Beethoven was suffering from syphilis. It is even pos- 
sible that he believed his deafness to have resulted from this dis- 
ease, and though this is by no means certain, the mere supposition, 
to one of Beethoven's Calvinistic morality, might well have made 
him feel that he was being judged. That his most valued sense was 
being taken away from him because of a moral lapse is an Aeschy- 
lean concept that would have been peculiarly native to Beethoven. 

There are people who still refuse to believe that Beethoven had 
syphilis. It is true that the evidence against them is overwhelming, 
but they are armored against evidence by a traditional belief that 
no great man could have had anything so shameful. The obvious 
evidence is medical and pharmaceutical; the more subtle is psy- 
chological, and can be marshaled under three general considera- 
tions. First, Beethoven had a psychopathic abhorrence of women 
whose morals he considered too free. This was violent enough to 
make him interfere absurdly and without warrant in his brother 
Karl's life. Second, he fell in love with a series of highborn, al- 
legedly pure women, whose social position, he knew, automatically 
made them unavailable to him. Third, though he passionately de- 
sired marriage, in part because he believed that it would solve all 
his emotional problems, he never took a wife. The argument that 
deafness alone would have seemed to him an insuperable bar to 
marriage is simply inadmissible. 

Beethoven's handicaps served to give his attachments a strained, 
intense quality. He was desperately seeking something he often 
found, but could never possess. The women who flicker through 
his life conform inevitably to one pattern; he who commanded a 
matchless diversity of style and mood in his art was enthralled by 
an unvarying, rather limited type of woman. His beloved ones are 
little more than girls, untouched, fresh, of noble birth and not 
too intelligent. It is fruitless to catalogue them, and more fruitless 
to linger over any of them: they are less individuals than symbols, 
and not one of them exerted a permanent personal influence on 


Beethoven's life. His love, however, was by no means unrequited, 
and it was said that this massive, rather uncouth man, with his 
painful awkwardness and social tactlessness, could make conquests 
beyond the charms of an Adonis. 

Countless attempts have been made to connect certain of Beetho- 
ven's compositions with one or another of his infatuations. The 
"Moonlight" Sonata has been called a portrait of his pupil, the 
Contessa GiuUetta Guicciardi, or of Beethoven's feeling for her. 
Certainly it is dedicated to her. But the rest of the interpretation 
is a perfect example of putting the cart before the horse. Beetho- 
ven's notebooks show that he was working on various ideas used in 
the "Moonlight" over a period of years. He happened to com- 
plete it in the high noon of his passion for the Contessa, and there- 
fore offered it to her as a suitable gage of h5s love. On one occasion, 
having dedicated his Rondo in G (let the romantic reader note the 
key) to this same Giulietta, he rededicated it to Prince Lichnow- 
sky's sister, a lady with whom, as far as we know, he was never in 

Art unquestionably springs from emotion, and there is no reason 
to suppose that love has played a less significant part in the en- 
gendering of masterpieces than nature worship or religious devo- 
tion, Particularization is the mistake, and can go to the length of 
tacking a True Story libretto onto a sublime outpouring of the 
spirit. The problem of ascribing definite subject matter to music* 
is very difficult, and had best be left to radio script writers. 
There can be no question, however, that the man who is peren- 
nially and hopelessly in love will write quite different music 
than either he who loves happily or he who loves not at all. Beetho- 
ven, who was perennially and hopelessly in love, said that his 
most enduring passion lasted only seven months, and he moved 
from woman to woman almost as rapidly as Casanova. But to com- 
pare Casanova's callous, sense-driven, and insensate tomcat prowl- 
ing and Beethoven's tortured questing is to see in a flash the exact 
antithesis between degradation and exaltation. Beethoven's loves 
were brief because they could never be fulfilled like Orpheus, he 
searched the face of every woman, but forever vainly. While he 
was in love, he was deeply in love. The agony of joy and apprehen- 

* In one very real sense, the only subject matter of music is the themes from which 
it is constructed. 


sive fear into which a momentary illusion of having come to the 
end -of his quest threw him, lies revealed in lines almost as painful 
to read as the "Heiligenstadt Testament 35 the famous letter to 
the "Immortal Beloved": 

July 6 } in the morning 

My angel, my all, my very self only a few words today and at that 
with pencil (with yours) not till tomorrow will my lodgings be defin- 
itively determined upon what a useless waste of time. Why this deep 
sorrow where necessity speaks can our love endure except through 
sacrifices except through not demanding everything can you change 
it that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine- Oh, God! look out 
into the beauties of nature and comfort yourself with that which must 
be i ove demands everything and that very justly thus it is with me so 
far as you an concermd, and you with me. If we were wholly united you 
would feel the pain of it as little as I. My journey was a fearful one; I did 
not reach here until 4 o'clock yesterday morning; lacking horses the 
post-coach chose another route but what an awful one. At the stage 
before the last I was warned not to travel at night made fearful of a 
forest, but that only made me the more eager and I was wrong; the 
coach must needs break down on the wretched road, a bottomless mud 
roac j without sucfr postilions as I had with me I should have stuck in 
the road. Esterhazy, traveling the usual road hitherward, "had the same 
fate with eight horses that I had with four yet I got some pleasure 
out of it, as I always do when I successfully overcome difficulties. Now a 
quick change to things internal from things external. We shall soon 
surely see each other; moreover, I cannot communicate to you the ob- 
servations I have made during the last few days touching my own life 
if our hearts were always close together I would make none of the kind. 
My heart is full of many things to say to you Ah! there are moments 
when I feel that speech is nothing after all cheer up remain my 
true, my only treasure, my all as I am yours; the gods must send us the 
rest that which shall be best for us. 

Your faithful 


Evening, Monday, July 6 

You are suffering, my dearest creature only now have I learned that 
letters must be posted very early in the morning. Mondays, Thursdays 
the only days on which the mail-coach goes from here to K. You are 
suffering Ah! wherever I am there you are also. I shall arrange affairs 
between us so that I shall live and live with you, what a life!!!! thus!!!! 
thus without you pursued by the goodness of mankind hither and 


thither which I as little try to deserve as I deserve it. Humility of 
man toward man it pains me and when I consider myself in connec- 
tion with the universe, what am I and what is he whom we call the great- 
est and yet herein lies the divine in man. I weep when I reflect that 
you will probably not receive the first intelligence from me until Satur- 
day much as you love me, I love you more but do not ever conceal 
your thoughts from me good-night as I am taking the baths I must 
go to bed. Oh, God! so near so far! Is our love not truly a celestial edi- 
fice firm as Heaven's vault. 

Good morning, on July 7 

Though still in bed my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Be- 
loved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or 
not fate will hear us. I can live only wholly with you or not at all yes, I 
am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your 
arms and say that I am really at home, send my soul enwrapped in you 
into the land of spirits. Yes, unhappily it must be so you will be the 
more resolved since you know my fidelity to you, no one can ever 
again possess my heart none never Oh, God! why is it necessary 
to part from one whom one so loves and yet my life in W [Vienna] is 
now a wretched life your love makes me at once the happiest and the 
unhappiest of men at my age, I need a steady, quiet life can that be 
under our conditions? My angel, I have just been told that the mail- 
coach goes every day and I must close at once so that you may receive 
the L. at once. Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence 
can we achieve our purpose to live together be calm love me today 
yesterday what tearful longings for you you you my life my- 
all farewell Oh continue to love me never misjudge the most faith- 
ful heart of your beloved L. 

ever thine 
ever mine 
ever for each other. 

The fact that the person to whom this letter was directed is not 
known makes it sound like a cut-and-dried emanation of the ro- 
mantic Zeitgeist. Its writer shows himself a true enfant de siecle, but 
though the letter rightly belongs to the nineteenth century, it was 
a real heart's cry intended for a real woman, and so escapes the 
emotional boundaries of a particular era. Hundreds of pages of 
fine type have been devoted to more or less ingenious guesses as 
to the identity of this "Immortal Beloved." Was she the Contessa 
Giulietta? Was she the Contessa's cousin, Therese von Brunswick? 


Was she Goethe's admired friend, Bettina Brentano von Arnim? 
Or was she any one of a dozen others? The answer is still anybody's 

Despite the evidence of the "Heiligenstadt Testament" and the 
letter to the "Immortal Beloved/' it is a mistake to think of Beetho- 
ven in a constant state of hopeless despair or amorous excitement. 
Until within a few years of his death, he continued to lead a more 
or less normal existence, going much into society and passing many 
happy hours with his ever-widening circle of friends. His eccen- 
tricities and frequent boorishness were interpreted as the concomi- 
tants of genius, not as the willful posturing of a mountebank. He 
attained a certain equilibrium through his abounding vitality and 
broad sense of humor. Without gorging or sousing, he enjoyed the 
pleasures of the table as much as any man. But his surest way of 
relief was a ramble in the country, for he loved, almost worshiped, 
nature. Finally, there was always the magic solace of composition. 
Beethoven is a perfect textbook exemplar of the modern theory 
that creation is in part the sublimation of otherwise unrelieved 
emotion. If this is always kept in mind, it can serve to fill out the 
seeming eventlessness of his biography, which from early in the 
century is little more than the story of his creative activity. 

But the story of Beethoven's creative activity is not without snares 
and pitfalls. We are so used to thinking of an artist's development 
as proceeding at equal pace in all the forms he handles that Beetho- 
ven jolts our entire preconceived scheme. And any scheme we have 
is further complicated by the division of his works into three peri- 
ods, suggested by early critics and more or less adhered to ever 
since. The dry but astute Vincent d'Indy aptly labeled these peri- 
ods "imitation, externalization, and reflection." It would indeed 
be handy if we could tabulate Beethoven's compositions under 
these three headings, and then find that column one ended at such 
and such a date, and so on. Unfortunately., this is impossible. Not 
only do these divisions merge imperceptibly, but as Beethoven's 
method was one of trial and error, and as he came to some forms 
later than others, we often find simultaneously composed works 
that are in quite different stages of his development. For instance, 
the Piano Concerto in C minor belongs to the same year (1800) as 
the C major Symphony. But the concerto was his third, the sym- 
phony his first; the symphony, clearly "imitation," is tentative. 


afraid of the personal. The C minor Concerto, just as clearly "ex- 
ternalization," is assured and self-assertive. The sure vigor of the 
first movement, the exquisitely made largo, with its hesitant, medi- 
tative rhythms, and the rushing, pell-mell rondo, with its abrupt 
yet artistically satisfying coda here, at last, is Beethoven in ma 

When the C minor Concerto was first performed at a public 
concert on April 5, 1803, a new symphony the Second, in D 
major was also on the program. Here, certainly, were two works 
on different levels of self-realization, though it may be doubted 
whether even the many connoisseurs in the audience recognized 
this fact. They were so shocked by the unbridled vivacity and brio 
of the last two movements of the symphony that they failed to see 
that it was still essentially a classical product, while the more mas- 
sive and individual but somehow quieter concerto was really 
much more advanced. Not that the D major is by any means in- 
significant: the larghetto is among the most exquisite of slow move- 
ments, Mozartian in its purity of line, but richer in texture and 
mellower in color; the coda of the finale is no perfunctory perora- 
tion; rather, it is a considered comment on material previously 
heard in the movement. Judged by the vast architectonics of later 
codas, it sounds rather stereotyped, and must, in the final analysis, 
hold its place as a kind of inspired blueprint of things to come. 

The Second Symphony, compared with the First, shows exactly 
the normal development one would expect of a composer who 
works earnestly at his job. If the distance between these two is 
fixed at a mile, that between the Second and Third must be fixed 
at a light-year. The Third Symphony is one of those monumental 
achievements that at first leave one so bewildered that the im- 
mediate impulse is to find some measuring rod that will make them 
seem more approachable. In the case of Beethoven's Symphony in 
E flat major, which surpasses all previous symphonies in length, it 
is somehow comforting to know that it can be performed in forty- 
six minutes under a conductor with a thorough understanding of 
the composer's intentions and a nice interpretation of his tempo 
marks. Further, though the stature of the Third can never be re- 
duced to intimate proportions, it brings it somewhat nearer to re- 
alize that its mighty effects are produced by the same orchestra 


Beethoven had used previously, augmented by a single additional 

It is hard to describe a work on which so many superlatives have 
been lavished. Bernard Shaw said that the first movement should 
be played by giants led by a demigod. Which is another way of 
saying that the grandeur of this allegro makes one involuntarily 
think of superhuman strength as the only motive power for such 
an enterprise. The second movement is a march possibly the 
most solemn and fitting funeral music ever written fitting, that 
is, at the funeral of a genius: it would dwarf a smaller man. In the 
scherzo, the classical minuet, which in Haydn's hands had begun 
to outgrow its court clothes, finally comes of age in an outburst 
of tempestuous joy suddenly and mysteriously deadened in the 
threatening drumbeats of the coda. The finale is excessively com- 
plicated, and abounds in mysteries of form to which no man may 
boast the key. Briefly, it is a series of free variations on a theme 
from Beethoven's own Prometheus music, interrupted by a fugue 
and topped off by a very lengthy coda. Rivers of ink have been 
spilled in the war over its merits. Some of the imputed formlessness 
of romantic music has entered here: those who like the finale either 
take the formlessness in their stride or claim to find in it an esoteric 
design that was never used again; those who dislike the finale say 
that they do so because it is formless. There can be little doubt, 
however, that with all its inherent beauties, it falls short of being 
a perfect culmination to the three preceding movements. 

The Third Symphony is evolved out of unpromising and, in 
many instances, quite un-Beethovian material. But the develop- 
ment is so rich and unexpected that the commonplaceness of the 
themes is discoverable only by close analysis, and it is in this pre- 
eminent grasp of the resources and subtleties of elaboration that 
the E flat marks a tremendous advance not only in Beethoven's 
career, but in the entire history of music. The result here is some- 
thing so epic that it would be necessary to call it "Eroica" even if 
no hero had been in Beethoven's mind while he was writing it. 
But the root inspiration for the "Eroica" actually did come from 
something outside the realm of music: it was originally intended, 
when Beethoven began sketching it in the late nineties, as a paean 
to Napoleon, who at that time seemed the very incarnation of the 
liberal ideals of the French Revolution. He had hardly finished 


composing it when he learned that the Corsican had crowned him- 
self Emperor of the French. In a rage, he tore the name of the 
fallen idol from the title page. The symphony now celebrates "the 
death of a great man/ 5 but in 1821, when Beethoven heard of 
Napoleon's death, he declared, "I have already written the music 
for that catastrophe." 

Beethoven outraged convention by introducing a funeral march 
into a symphony, but it was not his first offense of the kind. Some 
years before, in the A flat major Sonata (Opus 26), by all odds the 
most characteristic he had yet written, the third movement is a 
somberly grand andante entitled "Funeral March on the Death 
of a Hero." The A flat major is further remarkable for the theme 
and variations with which it begins, for in these Beethoven goes 
far beyond the scope of earlier uses of this device: the variations 
have a free, improvisatorial quality, though they still grow out of 
the theme rather than out of one another as Brahms' variations do. 
But this free, improvisatorial quality should not be misconstrued: 
it is never haphazard, always planned, always under control. 
Beethoven had arrived at the point where it was necessary for him 
to modify and expand already existing forms so they could hold 
his ideas, rather than compress his ideas to fit the, to him, cramped 
dimensions of the forms Mozart and Haydn had used so easily and 
with such brilliant success. Both his next two sonatas (Opus 27, i 
and 2), for example, he marked "quasi una fantasia" which is no 
idle tag: they retain only a few formal essentials of the old classical 
sonata, and take off into the unknown whenever the composer feels 
that his material requires it. The second of the pair is the all-too- 
famous "Moonlight" Sonata, with its unfortunate first movement 
an adagio sostenuto which must once have been hauntingly 
lovely, but has been played dry. It tends to linger in the memory, 
and numb us to the sprightly charm of the allegretto and the large 
dimensions and fine architecture of the presto. 

Among the three sonatas of Opus 31, composed while Beethoven 
was hard at work molding the "Eroica" the second is one of his 
most magical evocations. There is not an uninspired note in it, 
but it needs a Walter Gieseking to reveal its passionate vitality. It 
is put together like a drama: the first movement, with its agitated 
and frequently changed tempos, and its passages of almost spoken 
soliloquy; the meditative, intensely personal monologue of the slow 


movement; the fleet, galloping onrush of the denouement (among 
the most sheerly clever music Beethoven ever composed) -these 
are the perfectly related acts of an inevitable and compelling dra- 
matic sequence. The third of Opus 31 does not communicate itself 
so readily as the second of somewhat mixed character, it has less 
structural inevitability. This gives a tentative quality to a work of 
much melodic beauty. 

In 1804, before abandoning the sonata for some years, Beethoven 
composed two of his most brilliant virtuoso pieces. The "Wald- 
stein" and "Appassionata" have with reason been favored by con- 
cert pianists, and both have sure-fire qualities that recommend 
them just as positively to their audiences. The first of these, dedi- 
cated to Beethoven's old Bonn friend, is structurally simple: an 
energetic allegro (longer than many a complete earlier sonata) 
leads through a brief, poignant adagio into what is possibly Beetho- 
ven's most celebrated rondo. The three movements are rather like 
a storm, calm under a still-lowering sky, and then sunlight. The 
last is aerial in its loveliness and bright transparency, and Beetho- 
ven never wrote a more memorable melody to project exaltation. 
The "Appassionato?" has been made to carry a lot of pseudophilo- 
sophical baggage, Beethoven having begun the mystification by 
saying, "Read Shakespeare's Tempest" when questioned about its 
meaning. This is excellent literary advice, but may be nothing 
more than a red herring as far as this sonata is concerned. The first 
movement, after some sullen ruminations, bursts out in a wild and 
prolonged Byronic fury, and ends in mutterings that leave us with 
the ominous feeling that worse is yet to come; the explosion is 
delayed by a few pages of exquisite and tragic resignation, which 
are suddenly broken into there is a warning lull, and then a rat- 
a-tat-tat of harsh chords fortissimo; the third movement, begin- 
ning quietly, gathers anger and speed, rages hysterically, and ends 
in an orgy of musical fist-shaking. 

The "Waldstein" and the c< 'Appassionato?* opened up a new world 
of sound. They could not have been conceived for the clavier or 
the first pianos, and they still tax the resources of the modern 
concert grand. In them, Beethoven came to the full realization 
that the piano is a percussion instrument. 

The year 1804 is even more important as marking the probable 
beginning of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio* He had been com- 


missioned, possibly as early as 1803, by Mozart's last impresario, 
Emamiel Schikaneder, to compose an opera for his Theater an der 
Wien. Before Beethoven delivered any manuscript, Schikaneder 
failed, and his rival, Baron Braun, director of the Hoftheater, 
took over the lease, and also renewed Beethoven's contract. 
Josef Sonnleithner, the secretary of the Hoftheater, a cultivated 
but uninspired man, supplied a libretto that fulfilled the com- 
poser's stringent and stuffy demands as to moral unimpeach- 
ability and lofty tone. It is a story of conjugal love triumphant 
tinder the most harrowing circumstances of the Terror evidently, 
however, nothing was stipulated about literary excellence. Bee- 
thoven was so enchanted with the idea of setting its noble message 
that it was years before he was fully aware of the absurdities of the 
plot. Meanwhile, he had worked fervently, shuffled and reshuffled 
thousands of sketches for its original three acts, had probably com- 
posed one overture, discarded it, and composed another, and 
finally produced it, with Vienna full of a French army of occupa- 
tion who could not understand the German words of its Spanish 
plot (the scene had been shifted to Spain for reasons of state), on 
November 20, 1805. It played for three successive nights, and was 
a complete failure. 

Beethoven's friends were in despair: they wanted to save the 
opera, and finally prevailed on him to authorize certain revisions, 
Stephan von Breuning, whose intimacy with the composer dated 
back to Bonn, was entrusted with reducing the three acts to two, 
and making textual revisions. Equipped with a new overture the 
magnificent "Leonora" No. 3 the opera showed signs of a small 
success, but was withdrawn by Beethoven after a quarrel with the 
impresario. It lay on the shelf until 1814, when he again radically 
overhauled the score, and Georg Friedrich Treitschke, the noted 
dramatist, performed an equally serious operation on the text. 
This time, Fidelia took Vienna by storm, and was selected to open 
the next season at the Hofoper. 

Fidelio (or, as it was called until 1814, Leonora} is known by its 
overtures to millions who have never heard a note of it sung. The 
four overtures constitute a neat little problem. The least played, 
and least effective, is the "Leonora" No. i. It may well have been 
written first, though there is a theory that it was composed in 1807 
for a special performance that never came off; there is no evidence 


that it was ever played during Beethoven's lifetime. The "Le- 
onora" No. 2 was used at the actual premiere, "Leonora" No. 3 at 
the r8o6 performances. The former is superb in many respects, 
highly dramatic in effect, but lacking the absolutely perfect pro- 
portions of No. 3. Besides, the working out of its middle section is 
rather dry and academic. No. 3 uses some themes from No. 2, but 
develops them on a grander scale and on an even loftier plane. 
The entire overture, and more particularly the new material, is 
treated with an unexampled brilliance that has served largely to 
make "Leonora" No. 3 the most popular of Beethoven's overtures 
in effect, a kind of symphonic poem or tenth symphony in one 
movement. But though No. 3 is an impressive advance over No. 2 
from a sheerly musical point of view, it is ruinous as an introduc- 
tion to the opera. "The trouble with 'Leonora' No. 3," as Tovey 
says, "is that, like all great instrumental music from Haydn on- 
wards, it is about ten times as dramatic as anything that could 
possibly be put on the stage." Beethoven himself undoubtedly 
came to realize this, for in 1814 he composed still one more over- 
ture the so-called "Fidelio." This light, generally cheerful piece 
is an excellent curtain-raiser for the rather trivial matter of the 
first scenes, and is still used to open the opera. As performed at the 
Metropolitan, Fidelio interposes "Leonora" No. 3 between the first 
and second scenes of Act II, for all the world like a gigantic 
Mascagni intermezzo. We owe this favor to the dramatic sapience 
of Gustav Mahler. 

Fidelio is a comic opera with an excessive amount of gloom in 
the middle sections. It begins with some broad vaudeville clown- 
ing and closes on a conventional happy ending. A more per- 
functory story cannot be imagined, and to save the situation 
Beethoven expanded the character of Leonora, the heroic wife, 
until she bestrides the entire opera like a colossus. Her temporary 
sufferings (which have a way of seeming endless) almost persuade 
us that the drama is a tragic masterpiece. It is for her that Bee- 
thoven wrote the "Leonora" No. 3, and it is for her that he de- 
signed the most effective vocal music. The rest of the characters 
are so puppetlike and undifferentiated that the best that can be 
said of their music is that the villain Pizarro gets passages express- 
ing Beethoven's moral indignation at his character, while the hero 
Florestan is made to sing music that just as clearly expresses 


sympathy with his patiently borne tribulations. Beside these straw 
men, Leonora seems as real as Carmen. As far as the opera as a 
whole is concerned, not much of its dramatic effectiveness would 
be lost in a truncated performance that would consist of "Leonora" 
No. 3 followed by the heroine's great scena, "Abscheulicher, wo eilst 
du hin?" If the man whom Beethoven transfigured in the "Eroica** 
could only have been Leonora's mate, what an opera this might 
have been! 

All sorts of loyal excuses have been advanced to prove that 
Beethoven was a great composer for the stage. The truth is that he 
was a great dramatic musician one of the greatest of all time, in 
fact but he completely lacked a sense of the stage. Drama, in the 
deepest sense, he fully understood; stage business was beyond, or 
beneath, him. Treitschke's notes on the 1814 version of Fidelia 
furnish eloquent proof of Beethoven's complete ineptitude in this 
respect. An age that can afford to neglect Iphigenie en Tauride does 
well to neglect Beethoven's only opera. 

Beethoven did not devote 1805 exclusively to working on Fidelio. 
That same year, he began sketching what eventually became the 
Fifth Symphony, as well as the first of the three quartets dedicated 
to Count Rasoumovsky, and what is probably the finest of his 
piano concertos that in G major. The Fourth Concerto has al- 
ways been overshadowed by the grandiose effect of the Fifth, It 
declined in popularity even during Beethoven's lifetime, and was 
not rescued from oblivion until 1836, when Mendelssohn played 
it at a concert in Leipzig. It is baffling to explain why it has not 
always been one of Beethoven's most popular large compositions, 
for it yields to none of the others in immediacy of appeal. It is in- 
gratiating, intimate as few large works are. Although it does not 
offer virtuosos such an excellent chance to show off as the Fifth, it 
is flawlessly constructed, original in detail, and inspired in melody. 
Beethoven makes history by opening the concerto with a statement 
of the principal theme by the solo instrument, and then, with the 
use of a minimum of subsidiary matter, subjects the theme to one 
of the most subtle and complex developments in the entire course 
of music. Not one of the least triumphs of this use of the whole 
armory of technique is that the result does not sound even re- 
motely pedantic. The second movement is a dialogue between the 
orchestra and the piano. Liszt compared it to Orpheus taming the 


beasts, probably because the gentle, supplicating solo instrument 
finally wins over the myriad voices of the orchestra. At which 
point the rondo begins pianissimo, gradually working into a 
boisterous rush varied by a transitional theme of broad, singing 
character, utterly romantic, almost Schumannesque in feeling. 

It is particularly interesting to compare the Fourth Concerto 
with the Fifth, in E flat major. Although written four years later, 
this last of Beethoven's piano concertos is much less arresting and 
generally less interesting musically. The name "Emperor" was 
tacked onto it some years after its composition but not by Bee- 
thoven. It is possible to justify this nickname by the rather pom- 
pous, grandiloquent character of the first and third movements 
evidently this "Emperor" was a Roman. The first movement, with 
its beautiful and certainly malleable theme, is developed impres- 
sively, but at such great length that it ends by seeming too long 
one place where Beethoven's "astronomical punctuality" was not 
on time. The adagio, however, for all its air of improvisation, ranks 
high among Beethoven's profound meditations, and is the real 
glory of the "Emperor." It shades insensibly, and by a stroke of 
sheer magic, into a triumphant rondo that is a fitting culmina- 
tion to a virtuoso's holiday. With all deference to this rather 
breath-taking work, it is to be hoped that a day will come when 
the phrase "Beethoven piano concerto" will not inevitably mean 
the "Emperor." 

In 1806, the Emperor (and in those days only one Emperor was 
in everyone's mind) was lowering over Austria and the German 
states like a great storm, doing a thorough job of unsettling lives. 
Beethoven's was no exception, though he went right on working at 
a couple of symphonies and the "Rasoumovsky" Quartets. In 
October, he visited Prince Lichnowsky at his Silesian estate, and 
found French officers quartered there. This in itself was enough to 
upset him, but when the Prince half-jokingly threatened to lock 
him up if he refused to play for them, Beethoven forced his way 
out, and returned to Vienna in a rage. Arrived home, the first 
thing he did was to smash a bust of Lichnowsky. He soon cooled 
down sufficiently to focus his energies on a piece he had promised 
to complete before Christmas. Accordingly, on December 23, the 
new work, unrehearsed because he had just completed it, was pre- 
sented during a singular program. Its first movement was a feature 


of the opening half of the entertainment, and the second and third 
movements were given during the second half. Intervening was, 
among other compositions, a sonata by Franz Clement, played on 
one string of a violin held upside down. Clement was also the 
soloist in the Beethoven, playing his part at sight. 

The composition so inauspiciously introduced was the D major 
Violin Concerto, and it is surely no wonder that, produced under 
these circumstances, it was a failure. It was at once pronounced 
insignificant, and went immediately into exile from the concert 
hall. Its failure may have deterred Beethoven from ever compos- 
ing another violin concerto. Many years after his death, Joseph 
Joachim, whose cadenzas have since become an almost integral 
part of the concerto, resuscitated it, and helped it to a popularity 
that has never waned, beside the likewise unique essays in this 
form by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms. With that 
"colossal instinct" which so often moved him when he was pioneer- 
ing, Beethoven created in a single try music a large part of whose 
beauty depends on its peculiar fitness for the violin, and its sensi- 
tive balancing of the timbres and volumes of solo instrument and 
orchestra. He expanded the scope of the violin concerto and, with- 
out losing sight of the fact that he was writing for a virtuoso, 
produced something without a trace of empty show. 

The Concerto in D is almost deceptively quiet, and its melodies 
are in themselves close to undistinguished. There is a minimum of 
ornamentation, except in the seldom fitting cadenzas that virtuosos 
have written for the second and third movements. The beauty of 
the Violin Concerto lies deep, and for many performers is not 
get-at-able: tone, not display, is its secret. It has been said from 
time's beginning that a performer must bring some profound 
understanding to his task. Nowhere is this more true than in the 
Concerto in D. Throughout the first two movements, the soloist is 
given the rarest opportunities, for in them Beethoven has woven 
unpromising melodies into an incomparably rich and varied tonal 
fabric that quite transforms them. Only the rondo thwarts the 
performer, for even Beethoven's infinite resourcefulness was balked 
by the essential banality of its principal theme. 

In 1806, no less than three symphonies lay in Beethoven's work- 
shop in various stages of development. Of these, the Fourth, in 
B flat major, was completed toward the end of the year, and was 


first performed the following spring. The Fifth, in G minor, and 
the Sixth, in F major, were both finished in 1808, and were per- 
formed together on December 22 of that year. This all-Beethoven 
program also included the scena for soprano, "Ah! perfido" sections 
of a Mass composed for the Esterhazy family, an extempore fantasy 
on the piano and the premieres of the Choral Fantasy and the C 
major Piano Concerto! Everything was wretchedly performed 
(there had been no complete rehearsal of any of the works), the 
Theater an der Wien was ice-cold, and the program lasted four 
hours. In addition to being a physical trial to the audience, it be- 
came embarrassing when the performers broke down in the middle 
of the Choral Fantasy because Beethoven had given them a wrong 
cue. All was calculated to send the audience home in a state of 
mingled awe and rage. Beethoven, however, insisted that he had 
merely wanted to give them their money's worth. 

Fortunately, the rather delicate Symphony in B flat major 
had made its debut in a comparatively light program consisting 
of the first four symphonies less than three hours long. Thus it 
was born in the shadow of the "Eroica" where, despite its own 
sufficing beauties, it has remained ever since. There is a myth that, 
after the First and Second, Beethoven's even-numbered sym- 
phonies are inferior to the odd-numbered. The truth is that the 
odd-numbered ones are epic, the even-numbered lyric. It is almost 
as if after each of his cosmic labors, the titan had to play. The 
Fourth scales no Himalayan peaks, wins no victories, but to con- 
ceive of it as made up of inferior stuff is to commit an egregious 
error of judgment. No symphony has more exquisite proportions, 
and one would have to go to Mozart to match its sheer delicious- 
ness. The mysterious introduction, with its promise of something 
important about to happen, has often been invested with a deep 
significance that makes far too much of what it really is a prelude 
to mischief. The cantabile is like an infinitely tender savoring of 
happiness, and is touched with that slight tinge of melancholy en- 
gendered by a realization that of all things happiness is the most 
evanescent. The minuet is a charming dance, and the finale, 
which one musical pontiff damned as "too light/ 5 is actually just 
light enough witty and swift exegesis on the classical allegro of 
Haydn and Mozart. It is all as easy to listen to as folk melody, and 


is the product of a technique that commanded the resources of 
the entire past. 

The Fifth is the best known and best loved of Beethoven's nine 
symphonies therefore the best known and best loved of all 
symphonies. The reasons for its outstanding popularity are not far 
to seek: its comparative simplicity reduces the listener's difficulties 
to a minimum; the music is never dull, it is spirited and eloquent 
and it is Beethoven all the way. In short, it is excellent entertain- 
ment, in the best sense of the word. The renowned, almost notori- 
ous, and in themselves undistinguished four notes that open the 
symphony with a defi, lead into four "movements of the most 
eminently whistleable music ever composed. And it is a fact that 
thousands of people who say that they abhor, or "do not under- 
stand," classical music, go about whistling parts of the Fifth 
Symphony. It is definitely not a work around which a fence can be 
built: it belongs to the whole world, and this obvious fact has made 
enemies for it among those musical snobs who delight in fencing 
off the great masterpieces, and marking them "Private Property." 

It is too bad that we cannot share the emotions of those who 
listened to the C minor Symphony when it was new. It was the 
Sacre duprintemps of the early nineteenth century, and seems to have 
affected its listeners violently. The operatic composer Lesueur 
told Berlioz, "It has so upset and bewildered me that when I 
wanted to put on my hat, I couldn't find my head." The years 
have taken from the Fifth Symphony only one thing this power- 
ful novelty. But we can still revel in the resilient, athletic rhythms 
of the first movement, with its brief contrasting moments of 
melodic questioning. The second movement, an andante with 
variations, is more studied, yet it sings along freely and with en- 
chanting grace. The third movement is one of the most effective 
of all scherzos, from the ominous first theme (favored as burglar 
music by pianists in the days of the silent movies) to the subdued 
but still-lowering close, which leads without interruption into the 
finale. This scherzo is notable for a rare bravura passage for sup- 
pressed bass-violin virtuosos, wherein Beethoven shows a kinship 
to Rabelais in an episode of bumbling and sardonic humor. It was 
undoubtedly in the finale that M. Lesueur lost his head certainly 
it was here, after the repeated warnings of the scherzo, that Bee- 
thoven broke loose. The symphony ends in a rout of victorious 


energy, to which the reappearance of parts of the scherzo adds a 
note of terrible piquancy. The superabundance of ideas and the 
diabolic pace are still breath-taking, and it is not surprising that 
Ludwig Spohr, the same pontiff who had found the finale of the 
Fourth "too light/ 5 condemned this finale as "an orgy of vulgar 

The Sixth, or "Pastoral/' Symphony is, with the piano sonata 
known as "Les Adieux" one of the few extended compositions that, 
by his own confession, Beethoven built around a program. Now, it 
is quite true that certain composers, notably Debussy and Richard 
Strauss, wrote some of their best work under the stimulus of a 
program. It is equally true that a program, when used merely as a 
point of departure, rather than slavishly followed, liberated their 
imaginations: for them it was like a catalytic agent that effected 
the magic rapport between them and their material. But a pro- 
gram seems actually to have limited Beethoven, and neither of his 
large program pieces belongs with his best work. We can but 
wonder at the staying power of the "Pastoral" Symphony, which 
should long ago, as Edward J. Dent pointed out with his customary 
brutal frankness, have been retired to the shelf. There are plenty of 
"good things" in it but alas! they are technical excellences that 
would be inevitable in any mature work of Beethoven's. Most of 
the "Pastoral" is plain dull, and one can only suspect that those 
who help by their applause to keep it in the repertoire really de- 
light in the birdcalls, the rippling brook, and the storm rather than 
in the basic themes and their development. Fortunately, it is 
possible to enjoy Beethoven and the country separately without en- 
joying them together within the confines of the F major Symphony. 

The "Pastoral" was completed and first performed amid the 
alarums of another onslaught against Austria by Napoleon. Before 
hostilities were renewed, however, Beethoven (whose efforts to find 
official employment in Vienna had proved vain) received an at- 
tractive offer from Jerome Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, to 
become his Kapellmeister at CasseL For a time he entertained seri- 
ously the idea of emigrating, and what finally dissuaded him seems 
to have been, not patriotism, but abhorrence of the reputedly lax 
morals of Jerdme's court. The rumor that Beethoven might leave 
Vienna struck consternation into the hearts of his noble patrons. 
Three of them the Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky, and his pupil 


and newly found friend, the youthful Archduke Rudolf put then- 
heads together, and decided to offer him a yearly income from 
their own purses if he would promise to remain. This, with a small 
annuity he had been receiving from Prince Lichnowsky since 1800, 
might have added enough to his earnings from the publication of 
his music to make his life an easy one. Unfortunately, war was de- 
clared in April, 1809, an d ^ e value of Austrian currency was 
immediately cut in half. 

Beethoven decided to remain in Vienna during the war, but the 
approach of the French meant that the imperial family had to flee. 
The composer was sincerely attached to the Archduke Rudolf, and 
mourned his departure and absence in the first two movements of 
the second of his extended program pieces the E flat major Piano 
Sonata (Opus 810); he wrote a third movement early in 1810 to 
celebrate the Archduke's return. By far the most effective part of 
the Sonata "Les Adieux" is the first movement, with its ingenious 
development of the introductory three notes over which Beethoven 
wrote the word "Le-be-wohl!" which, as he angrily complained, 
was a far more tender and intimate word than the formal French 
expression his publishers substituted. It may be said of this sonata 
that though it was deeply felt, its program inhibited the com- 
poser's finest flights of creative imagination. Certainly, it is far in- 
ferior to the small but poignant F sharp major Sonata (Opus 78), 
composed somewhat earlier. Beethoven himself went on record as 
preferring the F sharp to the even-in-his-time overplayed "Moon- 
light," which it strongly resembles in mood though not in structure. 

There was a seeming lull in Beethoven's activity until late in 
1813, when the Seventh Symphony was first performed. The 
interim was taken up with a number of for him relatively small 
projects. Despite his now almost unbearable deafness, he was going 
so assiduously into society that he complained of no I6nger having 
time to be with himself. After the death of Haydn in 1809, Bee- 
thoven was unquestionably the most eminent of living composers, 
and therefore one of the principal sights of the town. In May, 1810, 
he met Bettina Brentano, then but twenty-five years old, but al- 
ready started on her self-chosen career as Goethe's Aspasia. He 
promptly fell as hopelessly in love with her as she had fallen in love 
with Goethe. Doubtless, her enthusiasm further stimulated what 
was to prove his lifelong devotion to the poet. In the same year, he 


set several of Goethe's poems and completed an overture and inci- 
dental music to Egmont, Goethe's drama of the ill-fated champion 
of Flemish liberties against the Spaniards. The incidental music 
has vanished somewhere behind the gates of horn and ivory, but 
the overture has held its own quite as triumphantly as that to 
Coriolanus.* Like the tremendous "Leonora" No. 3, each of these 
overtures crystallizes the essence of the drama as Beethoven felt 
it. It seems inconceivable that this noble and profoundly realized 
music will ever be crowded from the repertoire. Incidentally, the 
overture to Egmont concludes with an electrifying fanfare for the 
brass that actually echoes the trumpet flourishes the Duke of Alva 
ordered so as to drown out Egmont's last speech. Here Beethoven 
wrote with inflammatory eloquence what might have been a mere 
perfunctory effect the lion of aristocratic Vienna had found a 
program that liberated him. 

In 1811, Beethoven met a man who was destined to exercise a 
mixed influence on his music. This was Johann Nepomuk Malzel, 
the renowned inventor of the "metronome, and the contriver of 
many curious machines for making music. Beethoven at first took 
to him with a kind of innocent fervor. During 1812, while he was 
busy writing the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, he spent much 
time with Malzel, and they even planned to tour England to- 
gether. Simultaneously, the inventor was perfecting his metronome, 
and in July, at what was originally planned as a farewell dinner, 
Beethoven and his friends toasted the machine in a round that 
parodied its monotonous ticking. This was later used in the alle- 
gretto of the Eighth Symphony. But their plans changed: his 
brother Karl was so ill that Beethoven was afraid to leave Austria, 
and he himself was in such wretched health that he went to take 
the waters of various Bohemian spas, where he also hoped to al- 
leviate his deafness. 

At Toplitz, where the royalty and haute noblesse of Europe con- 
gregated, Beethoven first met Goethe. They held each other in 
high esteem, but got on each other's nerves. Goethe, supreme poet 
and philosopher though he was, stood aside, hat in hand, as his 
royal friends passed. Beethoven was enraged by such conduct. 
Bettina Brentano von Arnim attested that he "with folded arms 
walked right through the dukes and only tilted his hat slightly 

* By one H. J. von Collin, not Shakespeare. 


while the dukes stepped aside to make room for him, and all 
greeted him pleasantly; on the other side he stopped and waited 
for Goethe, who had permitted the company to pass by him where 
he stood with bowed head. 'Well/ he said, 'I've waited for you be- 
cause I honor and respect you as you deserve, but you did those 
yonder too much honor." 5 As for Goethe, he commented dryly, 
"His talent amazed me; unfortunately he is an utterly untamed 
personality, not altogether wrong in holding the world to be de- 
testable, but who does not make it any the more enjoyable either 
for himself or others by his attitude. 55 

Before leaving for the spas, Beethoven had finished the Seventh 
Symphony; the Eighth he completed at Linz in the fall while on a 
visit to his brother Johann. This was by no means a pleasure trip: 
he had heard that Johann was mixed up with a loose woman, and 
he spent much time trying to persuade him to mend his morals and 
his taste. Failing, he had recourse to the religious, civil, and penal 
authorities, and succeeded in driving Johann into marriage with 
the disreputable creature. He returned to Vienna in a fury, and 
seems to have brooded himself into inactivity during the winter. 
In May, 1813, he went to Baden, near Vienna, and it was there, 
while making a last despairing attempt to find a cure for his deaf- 
ness, that news reached him of Wellington 5 s overwhelming defeat 
of Joseph Bonaparte 5 s troops at Vitoria. 

Malzel had also heard the news, and his shrewd commercial 
mind was already busy with its possibilities for a musician who was 
really on his toes. With the English market in view, he asked Bee- 
thoven to write a battle piece for one of his musical machines. 
Malzel, who seems to have had the mind of a modern advertising 
man, counted on the popularity of Wellington, the fame of Bee- 
thoven, the novelty of his Panharmonicon, and the patronage of 
the Prince Regent, which was to be secured by an effulgent dedica- 
tion. Beethoven fell in with the scheme with childish delight. Ac- 
cordingly, after various false starts and alterations in plan, he pro- 
duced the notorious composition known as Wellington's Victory, or 
the Battle of Vittoria [sic], also occasionally called the "Battle 55 
Symphony. Meanwhile the Austrians and their allies had defeated 
Napoleon at Leipzig, and Malzel saw that his market had thus 
been shifted to Vienna. The piece was already all set for the Pan- 
harmonicon; he now persuaded Beethoven to orchestrate it, and 


have it performed at one of the many charity concerts being 
planned for the survivors of the last campaign. He shrewdly 
foresaw that it would take the town by storm, and that once its 
popularity was established, it would coin money for the Pan- 

In its appeal, Wellington's Victory far surpassed Malzel's wildest 
dreams. Vienna responded, not enthusiastically, but deliriously, 
and Beethoven, already the most famous of living composers, found 
himself, after its premiere on December 8, 1813, the most popular as 
well. It seems unlikely that calling the piece the Battle of Leipzig 
would have added a single leaf to his laurels. Besides, the fact that 
between artillery charges and cannon shots the only music to be 
heard was Britannia Rules the Waves, Malbrouck s'en va-t-en guerre, 
and God Save the King provided three insuperable obstacles to a 
patriotic change of title. Some faint conception of this atrocious 
potboiler unquestionably, as the late Hendrik Willem van Loon 
said, the worst trash ever signed by a supreme genius may be 
achieved by imagining a mixture of the "1812" Overture (with 
real cannon) and Ernest Schelling's A Victory Ball (with rattling 
bones, offstage bugle, and bagpipes full orchestra fff}* 

Almost lost amid the tumult and the shouting was the new work 
that began the concert of December 8 the Seventh Symphony. 
Yet it was well liked (the allegretto was encored), and its popu- 
larity has grown until it rivals that of the Fifth there are signs that 
it may soon outstrip its overplayed competitor, f The Seventh is in 
some respects the most glorious of all symphonies, and is quite 
as accessible to the lay listener as the Fifth. Its characteristics are 
even more readily discernible: its rhythms are so varied and em- 
phatic that Wagner called it the "apotheosis of the dance 35 ; it 
is joyful music made transcendent by a vastness of plan more 
usually reserved for tragic utterance; finally, it glows with orches- 

* Battle pieces were inordinately popular during the late eighteenth and early 
nineteenth centuries. The most famous of them before Beethoven's time was The 
Battle of Prague by Franz Koczwara, whose only other claim to fame is that he 
hanged himself in a London brothel. 

fThe 1938 poll of favorite compositions requested by the patrons of WQXR, a 
New York radio station devoted chiefly to the broadcasting of serious music, showed 
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in first place, the Seventh in second. The Fifth was re- 
quested in 23.9 per cent of all letters received, the Seventh in 18.3 per cent. Tchai- 
kovsky's Fifth Symphony was in third place, with 16.5 per cent. Beethoven's Ninth, 
Third, and Sixth were respectively fourth, sixth, and twelfth in the tabulation. 


tral color. This does not mean, of course, that color was a new 
thing in musicrMozart's E flat Symphony boldly experimented 
with the instrumental palette but here, for the first time, color 
became recognizably, undeniably, one of the prime elements of 
esthetic design, in its way as important as melody, harmony, and 
rhythm. The subtle, nervous use of varying volume, with an in- 
tuitive grasp of the protean thing it can be, provides a chiaroscuro 
to match the almost Venetian splendor of the instrumental 

The A major Symphony is remarkable in its complete freedom 
from those perfunctory connective passages and stereotyped de- 
vices that even the greatest of composers have indulged in. It starts 
with supreme confidence, and this endures until the very last bar 
of the finale. Never was Beethoven's genius more fecund, never 
more exuberant. The largeness of the introduction sets the stage 
for a work of heroic proportions, and leads up to an audacious ex- 
cursion into pure rhythm, which at the verge of monotony is 
salvaged by one of the most alluring melodies ever written. The 
second movement is the peerless allegretto a stately dance whose 
insistent rhythm carries the curious burthen of alternate melan- 
choly and triumph. Once heard, its melodies can never be for- 
gotten. The scherzo races along to the trio, rests there during 
moments of supernal peace, and resumes its headlong flight. The 
finale is a reminder that Beethoven was a Fleming it is a broad 
and clamorous kermis (Tovey's description of it as cc a triumph of 
Bacchic fury" is intolerable geography: it is no more Greek than 
Breughel) . 

The fate of the Eighth Symphony proves that even the greatest 
of geniuses cannot stretch and relax with impunity. When it was 
introduced, on February 27, 1814, it was inevitably compared with 
the Seventh, which preceded it on the program, and pronounced 
small, old-fashioned, and unworthy of the master. These strictures 
merely amused Beethoven, who said dryly that it was not liked as 
well as the Seventh because it was better. Now, it is possible to in- 
terpret this reply as mere perversity, but there is stronger reason to 
suspect that it was largely serious. In short, Beethoven implied 
that it was the measure of his greatness that after rearing the 
mighty structures of the Seventh Symphony he had successfully 
created something as gay and epigrammatic as the Eighth. But the 


public was not interested in his recreations , and -his temerity in 
introducing the F major on the heels of the Seventh almost resulted 
in its complete eclipse. When it was played, the allegretto of the 
Seventh was often unfeelingly injected into it as a drawing card. 
Even today, though it stands on its own merits, the Eighth is not 
one of the most popular of Beethoven's symphonies. The first three 
movements are definitely light, but never lightweight, and show 
what Beethoven could do as late as 1812 with the classical idiom of 
Haydn and Mozart. It is more than a little ironical that the al- 
legretto of the Seventh should have been used to salvage a sym- 
phony that already boasted one of the most delightful allegrettos 
ever composed. Had Haydn heard the ticking of Malzel's metro- 
nome he might very well have parodied it in this same delightful 
fashion. But once the fourth movement begins, all bets are off, and 
the "little symphony" (Beethoven's own words) gradually expands 
into a spacious essay on the dynamics of pure joy and godlike 
laughter. There are those who feel that this increase in scale over- 
balances the rest of the symphony. Certainly it lacks the flawless 
design of the Fourth, for example, but this should not prevent any- 
one from taking delight in the beauty of the separate movements 
which, moreover, cohere by the pervading joyousness of the 

In the spring of 1814, after the successful revival of Fidelia, 
Beethoven was at the height of his worldly career, and for a year 
and a half he was sustained on a dizzy peak of eminence and popu- 
larity. Events conspired to make him for this brief season the ob- 
ject of more adulation from personages of exalted rank than has 
ever fallen to the lot of any other composer. On November i, with 
Bonaparte safely immured on Elba, the Congress of Vienna con- 
vened to restore the status quo ante bellum, and Vienna swarmed 
with half the royalty and nobility of Europe. Beethoven received 
invitations to all social events of any importance, and everywhere 
he was honored as a lion, yielding precedence only to the Allied 
sovereigns and Talleyrand. The Austrian government now allowed 
him the use of the two halls of the Redoutensaal for a series of con- 
certs, and he himself sent invitations to the sovereigns and other 
great dignitaries. Six thousand people were packed into the halls 
at the first concert, and more than half that number at the second. 
The financial results of these and other concerts were most gratify- 


ing, and Beethoven was able to Invest considerable sums in bank 
shares. Yet, even in the midst of his triumphs, he must have been 
much troubled and considerably isolated by his ever-increasing 
deafness, which that same spring had forced him to abandon en- 
semble playing forever. 

The year 1815 opened promisingly enough, for Beethoven's suits 
against the heirs of Prince Kinsky, and against Prince Lobkowitz, 
for defaulting on his pension were finally settled in his favor, and 
without impairing his relations with those distinguished families. 
Now the agreement of 1809 was once more substantially in effect: 
the Archduke Rudolf continued to pay his share, and this, with the 
other two shares, seemed to assure Beethoven an annual income of 
3400 florins until his death. He was going to need that and more. 

From the earliest days of his affluence, Beethoven had become 
embroiled in complicated money arrangements with his brothers, 
particularly Karl, who had managed some of his dickerings with 
music publishers. Certain, of Beethoven's friends believed not only 
that his brothers were taking advantage of him, but that Karl, to 
whom he had lent large sums, was actually dishonest. Stephan von 
Breuning took it upon himself to warn him against KarPs weak 
financial morals. The result was to align Beethoven more than 
ever on the side of the accused, and to cause a rift of more than 
ten years in his friendship with Von Breuning. This was a severe 
blow, for only the year before death had separated him from his 
beloved patron, Prince Lichnowsky. And now, in November, 1815, 
an even heavier blow; Karl van Beethoven died, leaving a widow 
whom the composer thoroughly detested, and a nine-year-old son 
whose guardianship he shared with the mother. 

Beethoven immediately transferred to his nephew Karl all the 
blind affection he had.felt-for the father. On the other hand, his 
dislike of the widow was so violent and neurotic that he made every 
effort to keep her (whom he 'extravagantly termed the "Queen of 
the Night") from taking any part in her son's education. The 
conflict between these- two. strong- willed people dragged on for 
several years, with mother and uncle in alternate possession of the 
boy. At last, on January 7, 1820, Beethoven was declared sole 
guardian. The results of this legal war were deleterious to all 
parties concerned: the widow was permanently embittered; young 
Karl, after being the ball in this weird game of battledore and 


shuttlecock, grew up a thoroughly maladjusted young man whose 
tragic inability to cope with life darkened his uncle's last years; 
finally, Beethoven, in the full vigor of his creative powers, had the 
productivity of four years gravely curtailed. Even at this late 
date, it seems only fair to make a plea for the poor nephew who 
has been so ridiculously blackened by many of Beethoven's 
biographers. At an age when he needed a normal family back- 
ground, he had to live either with a mother who was none too 
good or with an uncle whose deafness and difficult temperament 
made him positively an unfit companion for a child. No wonder, 
then, that Karl, who seems to have been nothing more sinister 
than a poor booby, made a mess of his life, contracting enormous 
debts he could not meet, making a feeble attempt at suicide, and 
finally escaping into the obscurity of a private's berth in the army. 

On November 16, 1815, the very day after his brother Karl's 
death, Beethoven had received the freedom of the City of Vienna, 
an honor that made him thenceforth tax-exempt. He appeared 
occasionally in public to conduct various performances of his 
works, but went less and less into society. His deafness had become 
all but complete. Late in 1816 he was further cast down by the 
death of Prince Lobkowitz, though the almost simultaneous ar- 
rival of a handsome grand piano a tribute from the English 
maker, Broadwood somewhat buoyed him up. Multitudinous 
worries and a series of minor ailments served to interrupt the flow 
of large orchestral pieces that had not only made him the idol of 
musical Europe, but had placed an ample income at his disposal. 
The death of Lobkowitz reduced his annual pension by seven 
hundred florins, and for the first time in years he was hard pressed. 
It was not until 1823 that he was able to complete two large works 
that would not only improve his financial position, but would also 
consummate his fame. 

The small works that were the chief fruits of the decade before 
1823 five of the most stupendous piano sonatas ever written 
were unfortunately not likely to win their audience at once. With 
them, Beethoven entered his third period, which was characterized 
by an idiom that for a long time was not only thought difficult to 
understand, but in certain quarters was actually interpreted as a 
falling-off of his powers. Some modern critics stiU resent the fact 
that Beethoven used so advanced a musical language almost a 


century before their graphs of musical development show that 
anyone could arrive at it. Briefly, the most recognizable elements of 
this new style are a vast increase in size and scope, and the use 
of elaborate contrapuntal devices. These sonatas are the most 
truly serious and profoundly thought-out works ever written for 
the piano they are symphonies for a solo instrument. 

The world had to wait almost ten years after the Eighth Sym- 
phony to hear Beethoven's only great orchestral work in his third 
manner the "Choral" Symphony. There was no comparable 
pause between the E minor Sonata (Opus 90) and that in A major 
(Opus 101), which ushered in the last five sonatas. Opus 90, 
though mainly an unpretentious work glowing with romantic 
feeling, contains hints of the new elements Beethoven was prepar- 
ing to introduce into the sonata. Less than two years later, they 
showed themselves well abloom. Opus 101 opens with a decep- 
tively lyrical passage, but soon sacrifices the more superficial 
aspects of its singing style to what can almost be called a com- 
mentary thereon, characterized by intense concentration of bar- 
to-bar development. Here, in this first movement, we can examine 
at leisure the very articulations of this strange third style which 
can be analyzed rigorously and yet remain baffling. Possibly the 
simplest way of explaining it is to say that Beethoven finally evolved 
an exact musical language for expressing the hidden sources of 
the emotions. It is a language of ellipses and compressions, and 
demands unwavering attention if it is to be understood. The evolu- 
tion of this idiom was no pedantic feat. It grew naturally from an 
overpowering need: it was the only medium Beethoven could use 
to convey the most important and complex ideas he ever had. 

The five sonatas of this group have as palpable a family re- 
semblance as Mozart's last three symphonies. They are of varying 
lengths, even (be it admitted) of varying degrees of success. But 
every one of them well, not quite every one has miraculous 
unity. The exception is that veritable "red giant" of the musical 
universe the * 'Hammerk lavier" Sonata, in B flat major (Opus 106). 
The "Hammerklavier" is too long, and at some point in every move- 
ment its great poetry fades into the listless scientific prose of the 
experimentalist. In fact, if this were the last of Beethoven's sonatas, 
its prolixity, its not infrequent dullness, and its almost gaseous 
diffuseness might justifiably be explained by his deafness. But the 


"Hammerklavier" was composed in 1818, and was followed by three 
sonatas that are unquestioned masterpieces. The lyrical E major 
(Opus 109) found Beethoven more sensible about the exigencies 
of space, and more realistic about his audiences. The A flat major 
(Opus no) is positively genial in its accessibility: it is almost as 
easy to listen to as the great sonatas of the second period. Every 
part of it is of "heavenly" length: Beethoven never showed more 
tact than when he dictated the exquisite proportions of the adagio, 
and was never more apt in recapturing the vitality of an almost 
spent form than in the robust fugue. The last sonata, in C minor 
(Opus 1 1 1) 3 is indeed the end that crowns the work a majestic 
farewell to a musical form whose full powers he had been the first 
to call forth. From the first notes of the cosmic defi that introduces 
the maestoso to the last light-saturated strophes of the arietta 
Beethoven proves himself music's greatest thaumaturge. In the 
realm of musical history, it is not easy to be dogmatic, but it may 
be affirmed positively that Beethoven here set the limits of the 
piano sonata. No other composer has even remotely approached 
it in amplitude of conception, perfection of design, vigor of move- 
ment, and lightness of detail. 

But Opus 1 1 1 was not Beethoven's farewell to the piano. He had 
an even more gigantic work up his sleeve, the circumstances of 
whose conception were fated to produce a monstrosity. Anton 
DiabeUi, a music publisher, sent a banal waltz of his own composi- 
tion to fifty different composers (including little Franz Liszt), ask- 
ing each to contribute a variation on it. Beethoven, in a burst of 
bravado, himself wrote thirty-three variations on the silly little 
theme, and exhausted most possibilities of the variation form, 
the resources of the piano, and the patience of his audience. The 
"Diabelli" Variations are Beethoven's Kunst der Fuge: they are 
played as infrequently, are as invaluable as textbook examples, 
and, despite scattered beauties, are supportable in performance 
only to experts. 

While Beethoven was completing his last great sonatas, he was 
also at work on a solemn High Mass to be used at the installation 
of his friend Archduke Rudolf as Archbishop of Olmiitz. He began 
the Mass in 1818, and worked feverishly at it through the summer 
of that year and the next. But it was far from ready when the 
Archbishop was consecrated early in 1820, and Beethoven did not 


finish it until almost three years had passed. On February 27, 
1823, he was able to announce that he had completed the Missa 
Solennis. It had been intended for Cologne Cathedral, with whose 
vast interior Beethoven had been familiar as a child; actually it was 
first heard in St. Petersburg, at a private performance financed 
by Prince Nikolai Galitzin. The date was April 6, 1824, and 
Vienna did not hear it until a month later, and then only in an 
absurdly truncated form, with Beethoven conducting. It was 
neglected during the few remaining years of his life, and its place 
in the repertoire dates from its resurrection by Heinrich Dorn, 
Schumann's teacher, for the Rhenish Music Festival of 1844. ^' 
though it has remained a concert favorite on the Continent, it is 
doubtful that even there it has ever been completely performed as 
part of a church service. 

Like the B minor Mass, the Missa Solennis is unthinkable as 
liturgical accompaniment: it would dwarf rather than enhance 
the rite. It is ironical that two of the greatest of all composers used 
the service of the Roman Catholic Church for the creation of works 
so formidable in size that the Church cannot take advantage of 
them. Both of these masterpieces require such lavish batteries of 
performers that even as concert works they can be presented 
adequately only at festivals or by the most generously endowed of 
metropolitan orchestras and choral groups. But here the resem- 
blance between these Masses ends: the Lutheran Bach, the simple 
town cantor, wrote incomparably the more reverential one; 
Beethoven, the merely perfunctory Catholic, carrying the load of 
doubt engendered by the intellectual and social turmoil of the late 
eighteenth century, approached the very words of the Mass in a 
spirit Anton Rubinstein stigmatized as criticizing and disputa- 
tious. Beethoven's ever-immanent faith was in the heroic poten- 
tialities of mankind, and that was the faith whose triumph he had 
hymned in his great secular works. He went right on composing 
magnificent music when he turned to a sacred text, but his search- 
ing point of view was not deflected by the character of the subject 
matter. It is little wonder, then, that his illustrations of the liturgy 
fail to carry that conviction of an all-embracing faith in the tradi- 
tional Trinity which shines forth from the masterpiece of the trans- 
parently devout Bach. 

Musicians, except for Beethoven's most unquestioning idolaters, 


find the Missa Solennis just as hard a nut to crack as does the 
orthodox believer. Throughout, it is subtly and nobly conceived, 
and informed by a musical imagination at its healthiest and most 
daring. Again and again it rises to climaxes of incredible power 
and beauty. But it rises, alas! with a forgetfulness of the limitations 
of the human voice that reduces some of Beethoven's grandest 
ideas to magnificent might-have-beens. For example, the gigantic 
fugue, "Et mtam venturi" that comes at the end of the Credo is per- 
fect on paper, but never comes fully to life in performance. Paul 
Bekker has argued that the fault lies with the singers: he says that 
they are lazy, careless, incompetent. Although singers rarely de- 
serve any defense, here is one place where common sense easily 
takes the stand in their behalf. Just as Beethoven, finally immured 
in his tower of deafness precisely when his musical ideas were be- 
coming incomparably elaborate, well-nigh metaphysical, had 
written for the piano music that became less and less pianistic, so in 
the Missa Solennis he wrote music that is truly unvocal music 
whose ideal projection depends not on the singers' intelligence, but 
on supervoices of inconceivable range and staying power. The 
discrepancy between conception and practical results arose from 
the simple fact that Beethoven's deafness cut him off from the 
realities of performance. For years he had to answer in his head 
the question of what voices and instruments could do. 

In 1812, the year of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, Bee- 
thoven had already planned one in D minor. This came to nothing 
at the time, but five years later he began again. Another six years 
elapsed during which he worked at it in desultory fashion, and it 
was not until the summer of 1823 that he finally dropped every- 
thing else in order to complete it. One section caused him almost 
insuperable difficulties: in his youth he had been moved by 
Schiller's Ode to Joy y and as early as 1796 he had begun to make 
sketches for a setting of it. The decision to make this choral setting 
the last movement of the D minor Symphony came late, and 
brought with it the knotty problems of how to connect it with the 
third movement and even more important of how to make it 
seem an integral part of the symphony. As the summer of 1823 
deepened, he labored at the vast composition like one possessed. At 
last, on September 5, he declared the Ninth Symphony complete, 
though he actually went on perfecting certain details for months. 


Beethoven was badly in need of money at this time because of 
his nephew, and this situation led him to embark on a career of 
double-dealing. Before the Missa Solennis was completed, he had 
promised it to half a dozen publishers and sold it to a seventh. 
His manipulation of the Ninth Symphony was even more devious* 
In 1822, in return for a consideration of 50, he had promised his 
next symphony in manuscript to the Philharmonic Society of 
London: the Society took this to mean that they would be the first 
to perform a work dedicated to them. In the meantime, Beethoven 
had promised the premiere to Berlin, and so had thoughtfully dedi- 
cated the symphony to the King of Prussia. The next episode in the 
saga of the "Choral" Symphony was his pleased yielding to the 
demands of a committee of Viennese admirers that the work be 
first performed in Vienna. Beethoven stuck to the letter of his 
agreement with the London group, however, and sent them the 
autograph score. The field was thus narrowed to Vienna when 
fresh complications arose. " After an amount of bargaining and de- 
lay and vacillation which is quite incredible," says Grove, "partly 
arising from the cupidity of the manager, partly from the ex- 
traordinary obstinacy and suspiciousness of Beethoven, from the 
regulation of the censorship, and from the difficulties of the 
music," the premiere finally took place May 7, 1824, on the same 
program with the shamefully abbreviated version of the Missa 
Solennis already mentioned. The "Choral" Symphony aroused 
frenzied applause, which Beethoven, with his back to the audience, 
neither heard nor saw. Not until he was turned around to face 
a riot of appreciation did he know that his Ninth Symphony was 
a success. But after finding that his profit for the evening was only 
450 florins, he went home in a rage and spent the night fully 
dressed. Thus, amid circumstances quite as comic as tragic, the 
most controversial of all symphonies was ushered into an un- 
suspecting world. 

To discuss the Ninth Symphony at all, in view of the welter of 
conflicting opinions ranging from the truly worshipful ardor of a 
Paul Bekker through the palaverings of heavy snobs to the cold 
dislike of any number of sincere people who have their reasons 
requires a vast girding-up of the loins. Briefly, the idolaters con- 
ceive of the Ninth as a constant and ineffable soaring into the 
musical empyrean until, at the height of the choral finale, to quote 


Bekker, "A giddiness of spiritual intoxication seems to seize the 
mind, and this greatest of all instrumental songs of life closes with 
dithyrambic outcry, to echo forever in the hearts of mankind." 
Sir W. H. Hadow, usually so restrained in his enthusiasms, goes 
Bekker one better: "When the chorus enters it is as though all the 
forces of humanity were gathered together: number by number 
the thought grows and widens until the very means of its expres- 
sion are shattered and we seem no more to be listening to music 
but to be standing face to face with the living world." It is not 
possible to question the sincerity of great students who consum- 
mate their listening experience in rhapsodies of this sort, but all too 
many of us have failed, after anxious listening, to find that "echo" 
in our hearts. Further, having gone to a concert hall to listen to 
music, and having heard for three movements some of the best 
ever written, it is reasonable to complain of having this pleasure 
suspended, and of "no more . . . listening to music. . . ." Finally, it 
is impossible not to allow the suspicion to creep across our minds 
that the reason we are not listening to music is simply that Bee- 
thoven, here as little at ease with voices as in the Missa Solennis, did 
not succeed in translating his conception into musical terms. This 
is the more lamentable because the main theme he wasted on the 
pompous claptrap of Schiller is of a Bachian severity and mag- 
nificence.* The Ninth Symphony rouses and fulfills our highest 
expectations for three movements and part of a fourth, and ends in 
a cataclysmic anticlimax. 

The story of Beethoven's life after 1824 is simply told: it is 
marked by anxiety over his nephew's reckless course, an ever- 
increasing absorption in money matters (so his nephew would be 
well provided for after his death), and growing ill health. Musi- 
cally, these years were occupied with the composition of five 
massive string quartets, the sketching of a tenth symphony, and 
various smaller projects. Socially, with his deafness complete, Bee- 
thoven was just about as difficult as ever, quarreling and making 
up with his friends in his usual impetuous way. He fell in with one 

* Some conductors have solved the difficulties of performing the choral move- 
ment by omitting it. This may be indefensible by the strictest artistic standards, but 
at least it assures the first three movements of adequate rehearsal. The traditional 
procedure is to overrehearse the choral movement (which ends by defeating the 
singers anyway) and slight the first three movements, with the result that everyone 
leaves the performance dissatisfied. 


Holz, a jolly young violinist of expansive habits, whom Beethoven's 
older friends jealously suspected of leading the master astray. In a 
measure, their fears turned out to be reasonable, for conviviality 
was scarcely the best regime for an aging man probably in an ad- 
vanced stage of a serious liver complaint. His nephew's attempted 
suicide in the summer of 1826 all but prostrated him and left him 
an old man. Taking Karl with him, he spent an agitated autumn 
in the country with his prosperous brother Johann. Already, he 
felt his own end approaching, and the uncertainty of Karl's future 
haunted him. He pled incessantly with Johann to make Karl his 
heir, and these discussions, which from first to last were fruitless 
(as Johann reasonably pointed out, he still had a wife), culminated 
in a violent quarrel. Dragging Karl along, Beethoven fled pre- 
cipitately to Vienna in an open carriage, and there he arrived on 
December 2. He went straight to bed with a raging fever, and 
never rose again. 

Shortly after his fifty-sixth birthday, Beethoven quarreled 
fiercely with Karl. They were not reconciled when the youth was 
summoned to join his regiment, and he never saw his uncle again. 
Now, however, Johann and his despised wife arrived to care for 
their great relative. In his last days, he was not alone: among his 
many visitors was Franz Schubert, whose songs he perused, and 
declared to be works of genius. A set of Handel arrived as a gift 
from London, and he paged through it in an ecstasy of delight: 
years before he had declared that "Handel is the greatest of us 
all." Late in February, 1827, after he had been tapped five times 
for dropsy, all hope of his recovery was abandoned. He lingered 
for almost a month. On March 24, the sublime questioner received 
the last sacrament, and almost immediately the death struggle be- 
gan. It lasted for more than two whole days, and Beethoven was 
often in acute agony. On March 26, 1827, a strange storm broke 
over Vienna snow and hail followed by thunder and lightning 
which roused the dying man. He opened his eyes, shook his fist at 
the sky, and died. 

The master who had metamorphosed so many phases of music 
devoted the last few years of his life to the shaping of five string 
quartets which not only changed the face of chamber music, but 
also with destiny's rare inexorable logic consummated his own 


achievement. Dryden nobly said of Shakespeare that "he found 
not but created first the stage. 35 And, without disparaging Beetho- 
ven's great predecessor it may be truly said that he created mod- 
ern music. In no department of his thought is this more easily 
perceptible than in the chamber music, at which he had been 
working from his prentice years. He wrote a bewildering variety 
of chamber pieces, among them sonatas for violin and piano and 
cello and piano, quartets and a quintet for strings and piano, vari- 
ous compositions for wind instruments and strings, and trios, quar- 
tets, and a quintet for strings alone. Scarcely any of these are un- 
rewarding, and a few notably the "Kreutzer" Sonata for violin 
and piano, with its superb first and second movements and trifling 
finale have achieved wide popularity. But the string quartet was 
the only chamber ensemble he wrote for in every stage of his 
artistic development, and in his quartets can be traced with won- 
derful clarity the record of his changing attitude toward the ever 
more elaborate problems he set himself. 

The first six string quartets (Opus 18), composed about 1800, 
are the children of Haydn and Mozart. They are light and charm- 
ing works, touched with a fitful melancholy that barely disturbs 
their eighteenth-century serenity. They sound like the exquisitely 
polished work of an accomplished musician with no plans of his 
own for the future. An occasional touch of brusquerie, a petulant 
turn of phrase, alone suggest that their young composer is not so 
well mannered as he should be. Of the six, only one the fourth 
is in a minor key; it is, beside the lighthearted five, almost a 
changeling: its loveliness has a remote and archaic quality. 

A half dozen years passed, and Beethoven composed the mag- 
nificent set of three quartets (Opus 59) for Count Rasoumovsky, 
Prince Lichnowsky's brother-in-law. They belong to the period of 
the "Eroica" and the "Appassionato," and are not unnaturally 
works of conflict and passion. Still structurally orthodox, they are 
as romantic in content as the first set of quartets is classical. They 
are the direct ancestors, in coloration and feeling, of the chamber 
music of the rest of the century down to Brahms. The first "Rasou- 
Hiovsky" opens with a lush and alluring melody on the broadest 
lines: it might easily be the theme song of the romantic movement. 
The piercingly sweet, introspective adagio is one of the first hints 
in music of that self-pity which was to echo intolerably through the 
trasic cadences of Piotr Ilvich Tchaikovskv. Here, if anvwhere. is 


that often described but seldom captured legendary hero Beetho- 
ven, the Emperor of Sturm und Drang. Only two years after these 
three highly personal masterpieces, he wrote, almost simultane- 
ously with the "Emperor" Concerto, the brilliant "Harp" Quartet 
(Opus 74) . It fits in with the old-fashioned virtuoso's idea of the 
string quartet as a showpiece for a first violinist accompanied by 
three far less important players. Beethoven closed the quartets of 
his second period with a transitional work (Opus 95) that Men- 
delssohn called the most typical thing he ever wrote a strange 
judgment. It partakes of the easily projected emotional qualities of 
the "Rasoumovsky" group and of the more abstract sublimation 
of emotion characteristic of the last five quartets. 

These last five* are considered difficult to understand. The sen- 
suousness and warm emotionalism of the middle period have van- 
ished. Compared with the "Rasoumovsky," for instance, they are 
cold and severe. The strict four-movement form of the earlier quar- 
tets has been abandoned for a freer design whose unity is not at 
once apparent. The musical thinking is both complex and spare: 
ornamentation has been excised with Dorian severity, and every- 
thing is surrendered to essentials. This, certainly, is abstract music 
in excelsis, and its bareness of effect would at times be insupportable 
were it not mitigated by contrapuntal weaving that in complexity 
and effectiveness rivals that of Bach. It is not easy to come away 
from a first hearing of these quartets with a desire to hear them 
again. But if we do survive the first shock of this ascetically shaped 
art, and go back to it again and again, we are almost certain to end 
up thinking the last five quartets among the most soul-satisfying 
music ever composed. 

So, from the apparently innocent mimicry of Haydn and Mozart, 
Beethoven had traveled as long a road as any artist ever trod. If 
today he is the most universally cherished of all musicians, it is 
because in the course of this heroic pilgrimage he created some- 
thing enduring for every sort and condition of man. He failed often, 
but in the one overpowering ambition of his life he succeeded su- 
premely: for the humanity he loved so much he left a testament of 
beauty with a legacy for every man. 

* The opus numbers are 127, 130, 131, 132, and 135. In addition, the Grosse Fuge* 
originally the last movement of Opus 130, is now published separately as Opus 133. 
Beethoven wrote a new finale for Opus 130 because the fugue was sharply criticized 
hv M fri^nH a ton liftAw fnr the rest of the auartet. 

Chapter VIII 

Carl Maria von Weber 

(Eutin, December i8 3 iy86-June 5, 18263 London) 

"T TERY little is done, nowadays, to disabuse us of the idea that 
V Carl Maria von Weber wrote three overtures, a piano con- 
certo, a notable salon piece and nothing more. Occasionally a 
prima donna with the right physique trots out one of his tempestu- 
ous arias, or a conductor in an archeologizing frame of mind 
disinters one of his less-known overtures. Thus Igor Stravinsky, 
not satisfied with proving that the numbers on Tchaikovsky's sym- 
phonies actually mean something, and that a Third preceded the 
Fourth, began an epochal experiment of keeping a Carnegie Hall 
audience awake throughout an entire concert by playing a Turan- 
dot overture by Weber. In general, it was well received, and the 
subscribers went home content to know that Weber had composed 
something besides the overtures to Der Freischittz, Euryanthe., and 
Oberon> the Conzertstuck, and the Invitation to the Dance. 

Except for a few great arias that are ever fresh, but are heard all 
too rarely today, time has winnowed wisely in the case of Weber. 
The best of him is precisely what is most familiar. A tour through 
his piano works is a depressing excursion: the country at its grand- 
est is little better than undulating, and the romantic tarns and 
craggy peaks turn out to be mirages. It is no joke to be left high 
and dry in the midst of a Weber piano sonata. His output was not 
large, and too much of it consists of patriotic part songs that may 
have been popular in Hitler's Germany for reasons that would 
not give them a hearing elsewhere. Nor do his songs for solo voice 
have any vitality. It may be stated that Weber wrote two Masses, 
admirable in sentiment and sound in construction, which have 
been read through with approbation by his biographers and are 
never performed. Of his nine operas, only three hold their place, 
and that precariously. What remains of Weber's once lofty reputa- 
tion is dwindling rapidly. It is becoming apparent that he was 
little more than a talented showman who happened, at a strategic 
moment, to epitomize the Zeitgeist, or its trappings, more^obviously 
than any other musician of his time. 


Weber came of that same family from which Mozart took his 
wife a roving, shiftless, and talented tribe who might well have 
been the prototypes of Sanger's Circus. His father., having failed to 
discover a genius among his first brood, remarried at the age of 
fifty-one, and thus begot Carl Maria, who was born at Eutin, near 
Liibeck, in 1786. His mother was eighteen at Carl Maria's birth, 
and a dozen years of her husband's thoughtless and well-nigh 
brutal treatment sufficed to kill her. Old Franz Anton, on the other 
hand, was something of a personage, and like Buckingham, "in the 
course of one revolving moon, was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and 
buffoon. 53 He dabbled in lithography with its inventor, the emi- 
nent Senefelder, sat at ease among the orchestral strings, had the 
ear of the Elector Palatine in weighty financial matters, and played 
Tyl Eulenspiegel on the side. Unhappily for his relatives, this self- 
styled Baron fancied himself most as the impresario of a traveling 
theatrical company, and more latterly as the father-nursemaid of 
another Mozart. Nursemaid he was, but scarcely a tender one: the 
life of the road permanently injured Carl Maria, who had inher- 
ited his mother's frailness and nervous instability rather than his 
father's rugged health and bouncing spirits. 

Practically snatched from his swaddling clothes to be rushed 
over the face of Germany, the intended prodigy, after a makeshift 
musical education acquired on the run, miraculously achieved his 
twelfth year. He took a few lessons from Michael Haydn in Salz- 
burg, and there Franz Anton pompously brought out the boy's 
first published work, six little fugues. These, as well as an opera 
that has been lost in fact, all of Weber's juvenile and youthful 
efforts were feeble products of the forcing-house. The signs were 
that Carl Maria was far from a genius, and so his father (who had 
lately added the unearned title of major to his von and other pre- 
tensions) claimed all the more loudly that he was. The unadorned 
facts are that he had become an excellent pianist for his age, had 
picked up the rudiments of composition without knowing exactly 
what to do with them, and had already acquired in the theater 
itself that inexhaustible knowledge of stagecraft that was to be his 
salient asset as an operatic composer. While other boys were play- 
ing at marbles or hopscotch, Carl Maria was sniffing grease paint 
and powder, dodging sceneshifters, and absorbing the theater's 
multifarious lore and rule of thumb. 


Weber's first performed opera Das Waldmadchen dates from 
1800, and though he himself later dismissed it as immature stuff., 
it was produced as far afield as St. Petersburg, and actually had 
considerable success at Vienna. It fell flat at its premiere., however, 
and the boy had to work hard and wait some years to get a hearing 
for a second opera, which was even less encouragingly received 
than Das Waldmadchen. Meanwhile, probably realizing that he was 
trying to make bricks without straw, he began to study theory, at 
first alone, and then in Vienna under the fashionable and ingratiat- 
ing Abbe Vogler, whom Browning has immortalized along f lines 
that give no true picture of a man who was little more than a 
dilettante and quack. The choice of Vogler is typical of old Weber's 
lavish inattention to matters that required serious thought. But the 
Abbe, though not a painstaking teacher, had a flair for communi- 
cating his catholic tastes. Besides, he had powerful connections, 
and his boys had a way of getting the plums while the charges of 
worthier pedagogues went neglected. Thus, before Weber was 
eighteen years old, he found himself conductor of the opera at 
Breslau. To serve the Abbe's brash young favorite, many older and 
more experienced men were passed over, and there were plenty of 

Weber was not happy in Breslau. While; still in Vogler' s en- 
tourage in Vienna, he had found a friend in one Gansbacher, a 
talented wastrel who passed on his frivolous tastes to Weber. Natu- 
rally, Carl Maria found a provincial capital tame after the flesh- 
pots of Vienna, and finally, in an excess of boredom, tried to bring 
those fleshpots to Breslau, dissipated as wildly as the small re- 
sources of the town permitted, and ended by smothering himself 
under a burden of debt. Although he was a delightful com- 
panion, and had somehow (certainly not from his noble father), 
acquired the instinctive good manners of a gentleman, he got off on 
the wrong foot with the Breslauers. He revealed himself at once as 
a masterly conductor, but exacted such rigid discipline that his 
company soon came to resent him. Worse, his innovations ran into 
money, and he fell foul of the tightfisted business mauagement. 
Only the regisseur saw that Weber was a man of vision, and tried 
vainly to arbitrate the difficulties. Furthermore, he presented Weber 
\vith a fantastic and highly romantic libretto Rubezahl which he 
worked at feverishly, but never completed. 


Weber spent many pleasant hours with other young musicians., 
playing the piano and talking shop. These soirees usually ended 
with his friends sitting back and listening to Weber sing. He had 
a fine tenor voice, and commonly accompanied himself on the 
mandolin, to which, strange to relate, he was excessively devoted. 
These recitals came abruptly to an end. One evening, a friend 
called at his lodgings to try over the recently completed overture 
to Rubezahl, and found Weber lying unconscious on the floor: he 
had accidentally swallowed some acid used in his chemical dab- 
blings he, like his father, was interested in lithographing music. 
When he recovered, his singing voice was ruined, and he could 
barely speak above a whisper. 

Weber resigned his Breslau position in 1806; and found a tem- 
porary stopgap as musical director at Duke Eugen of Wtirttem- 
berg's Silesian residence. Weber moved in with his aging father 
and an aunt, and spent several delightful months, during which he 
composed his only two symphonies, both in C major, and a miscel- 
lany of other now forgotten music. But the approach of Napoleon 
broke up this idyl in less than a year, and Eugen went off to the 
wars, not, however, before securing Weber a snug post in Stuttgart 
as secretary to his brother Ludwig. From the beginning, this posi- 
tion was fraught with difficulties: his was the thankless task of man- 
aging the tangled finances and answering the elaborate corre- 
spondence of a debauched and despised younger brother, whose 
absurd escapades and dizzy extravagances were surpassed only by 
those of King Friedrich himself. Weber soon found himself swim- 
ming with the luxurious tide, and discovered that his income would 
not adequately support himself and his father. Kingly favor was 
needed, but kingly favor was denied one whose painful duty it was 
to be constantly nagging for the wherewithal to stave off Ludwig's 
creditors. Insensibly the King came to associate Weber with his 
brother's thriftlessness, and matters were not helped when Weber 
vented his own spleen at this injustice by playing broad practical 
jokes on the King. Once he was actually arrested when he mali- 
ciously misdirected a washerwoman, who had asked him the way 
to the laundry, into the King's presence. Friedrich only waited for 
a pretext to rid himself of this hateful lackey, whose title of baron 
(which to the end of his days Weber innocently sported) gave him 
free and constant access to the court. In 1810 the occasion came in 


a mix-up over some misappropriated funds, the details of which 
are still unclear. At any rate, old Franz Anton seems to have been 
guiltily involved. On February 26, father and son were banished 
perpetually from Friedrich's dominions. 

The decree of banishment staggered Weber for more reasons 
than one. First, he had become entangled with Margarethe Lang, 
a young singer at the opera, whose accommodating morals had 
drawn him into a tender alliance. Second, he had found some 
kindred spirits dilettantes like himself who had a great passion 
for art, and an even greater passion for the bottle.* Finally, after 
taking his old score of Das Waldmddchen from the shelf, and rewrit- 
ing it almost completely under the name of Sylvana, he had it in 
rehearsal when the blow fell. Now, with so many important issues 
at stake, this must have seemed like being cast out of paradise, and 
the effect was to chasten Weber, who suddenly realized that he had 
been squandering precious time. With a new solemnity, he rededi- 
cated himself to his art. He was twenty-three years old. 

There now began a confused period in Weber's life, for he had 
no definite employment, and had to make a living mainly as a 
concert pianist. After settling his father at Mannheim (the tireless 
old scamp was threatening a third marriage at the age of seventy- 
six), he removed to Darmstadt so as to renew relations with the 
Abbe Vogler, who led the court band there. He saw Gansbacher 
again, and struck up a warm friendship with another of Vogler's 
proteges, one Jakob Liebmann Beer, who was to make a noise 
a very loud noise in the world as Giacomo Meyerbeer. Contact 
with this talented young trickster, who at seventeen was already 
more famous than Weber, stimulated him to feverish activity. Mu- 
sical ideas crowded his mind, many of which did not mature into 
action until years later, notably the main theme of the Invitation to 
the Dance and some ballet motives eventually used in Oberon. More 
important, he toyed with the idea of using the Freischutz legend for 
an opera. He finally got a hearing for Sylvana at Frankfort in Sep- 

* The friends called their association Fausts Hollenfahrt Faust's Ride to Hell 
and addressed each other under fantastic names, thus foreshadowing Schumann and 
his Damdsbund (page 297). They wrote musical criticism for periodicals, discussed 
literature and folklore, and shared their romantic dreams and fancies. It was all 
as heavily German as Weber's nickname Krautsalat. Haydn and Mozart would 
have oeen ill at ease in such company, but the romantics down through Wagner 
would have felt at home among them. 

WEBER 213 

tember, 1810, mainly to empty seats, for only the sternest devotees 
of music could tear themselves away from a field outside the town, 
where the generously proportioned Mme Blanchard was making a 
balloon ascent. The premiere of Sjlvana turned out to be nothing 
more than a quiet family affair: Weber conducted; his mistress, 
Margarethe Lang > was the first soprano; his future wife, Caroline 
Brandt, sang the title role. Undeterred by the public inattention to 
his operatic career > he finally completed, after many distractions, 
a comic Singspiel of lusty vigor, Abu Hassan., the frolicsome over- 
ture to which is still occasionally played. It was first produced at 
Munich in June, 1811, and the response was such that Weber felt 
he had not been working in vain. Therefore^ it is aE the more 
strange that he did not begin work on another opera for more than 
six years. 

Old Franz Anton died in April, 1812, and left Weber alone in 
the world. Although his father had caused him endless trouble, and 
had been a constant drain on his meager resources, Weber sin- 
cerely missed him. He felt cast adrift without a rudder, though in- 
deed the externals of his life were sufficiently brilliant. He was 
acclaimed everywhere as a leading pianist and conductor, moved 
with ease in the highest society of the day, and was admittedly in 
the forefront of that astounding galaxy of genius and talent that 
was striving to create a characteristic German Kultur out of the 
wreckage left by Napoleon. Weber's relations with his famed con- 
temporaries were not always amicable: for instance, he and Goethe 
seem never to have hit it off. On the other hand, he had a brief 
but cordial friendship with the macabre E. T. A. Hoffmann. With 
Ludwig Spohr, the most renowned German violinist of the day, he 
became fast friends after the most unpromising beginning. 

Weber's wanderings were brought to an unexpected close in 
January, 1813, while he was stopping in Prague on his way to 
Italy. He was just preparing for a two-year tour that would take 
him farther afield than usual, when an extraordinarily attractive 
offer was made him: the direction of the opera at a salary of two 
thousand gulden,, with an annual benefit guaranteeing him an 
extra thousand. He was promised a vacation of two or three months 
every year,, and most important of all he was to be allowed com- 
plete freedom of action in running the opera. Weber accepted at 
once, and set out energetically to get a fine company together. This 


turned out to be a major job, for his predecessor had let the insti- 
tution, which in Mozart's day had been one of the finest in Europe, 
run to rack and ruin, and now almost all new singers had to be 
engaged among them, significantly, Caroline Brandt. During his 
three years' tenure, Weber literally regenerated the Prague opera 
in all its departments. With his unequaled firsthand knowledge of 
the stage, he was everywhere, supervising the painting of the 
scenery, criticizing the cut and color of the costumes, keeping a 
shrewd eye on the box office, and handling all phases of the 
publicity, from elegantly worded feuilletons for the newspapers to 
downright ballyhoo in the handbills. His regime, from a musical 
point of view, was unqualifiedly brilliant: he opened with a 
splendid reading of Fernand Cortez>* a grand opera on a heroic 
scale, which was then the rage of Europe, and during the season 
mounted no less than twenty-four newly studied and perfectly 
coached operas and Singspiels. 

To secure these impressive results at Prague, Weber exacted 
strict discipline he was always something of a martinet and 
squandered his small reserves of physical energy. His precarious 
hold on good health slackened, and from this time until the day of 
his death he was never really well. He was probably born tuber- 
cular; caravan life weakened the child, dissipation the youth, and 
overwork the man. Moreover, his health was further impaired by 
the emotional storms he was weathering with difficulty: after 
breaking off with Margarethe Lang (a long and painful process), 
he had begun seriously to woo Caroline Brandt, but found her 

In the summer of 1814, after slowly winning back some of his 
strength at a Bohemian spa, Weber proceeded to Berlin for the 
celebration of the King of Prussia's triumphal entry into his capital 
after the Allies 5 victorious march on Paris. He was carried along on 
the mounting wave of patriotism, and, indeed, had some share in 
the fetes. He gave a gala concert attended by the King and the 
court,, and conducted a well-received revival of Sylvana. Some 
years before, he had summed up the Prussian temperament as "all 

* Its composer, Gasparo Luigi Pacifico Spontini (i 774-1 85 1 ), is now remembered 
chiefly, if at all, by La Vestale, which rated a Metropolitan performance as recently 
as 1925. He shared with Cherubim the task of carrying the traditions of classical 
opera into the nineteenth century. 

WEBER 215 

jaw and no heart/* but now glad faces, singing enthusiasm, and in- 
fectious patriotic fervor had metamorphosed Berlin into something 
infinitely attractive. When he left for a hunting trip with the Grand 
Duke of Gotha, the vision of a victorious people continued to 
haunt him, and he sat down and wrote choral settings for ten 
poems from Karl Theodor Korner's Leyer und Schwert. These ran 
through Germany like wildfire, and soon Weber was almost as 
much a hero as Korner, who had been killed in action against the 
French at the age of twenty-two. Little more than a year later, 
after pondering the news of Waterloo, Weber gave vent to another 
fervid patriotic effusion the cantata Kampf und Sieg, which was 
first performed at Prague in December, 1815, and almost equaled 
Leyer und Schwert in popularity. These were truly occasional pieces, 
for they have long since vanished. In 1815, however, it seemed 
that great ideas could have no more eloquent voice, and when, 
after the premiere of Kampf und Sieg, old General von Nostitz re- 
marked to Weber, "With you I hear nations speaking; with 
Beethoven only big boys playing with rattles," he was voicing the 
consensus. Still, it should be noted that the General was but com- 
paring two mediocre compositions, for by "Beethoven" he meant 
Wellington's Victory. 

Weber resigned from the direction of the Prague opera in 
September, 1816: he felt that he had accomplished as much as he 
could, and besides, the local musicians were so unfriendly to one 
they considered an upstart foreigner that he had never been happy 
there. He was idle for only a few months, during which he angled 
for the post of Kapellmeister at Berlin, one of the few juicy plums 
available. Just when he realized that he was wasting his time in 
Berlin the job there was to go begging for three years under an 
indifferent interim man, and then fall to Spontini he received 
notice that Friedrich Augustus, King of Saxony, desired him to 
organize the performance of German opera at Dresden. After some 
initial bickering, Weber accepted the onerous duty on condition 
that he be put on an equal footing, both as to title and salary, with 
Francesco Morlacchi, director of the flourishing Italian opera. 
Doubtless confident that he would have his own way, he set 
energetically to work, and even produced his first opera Etienne- 
Nicolas MehuPs Joseph before the King gave way. It must be 
remembered that Weber's task at Dresden was even more difficult 


than at Prague, for here he had to create everything from the 
ground up. But the results were so satisfactory that in September, 
1817, less than a year after he arrived, his appointment was con- 
firmed for life. 

It all sounds like a success story, but Dresden was no bed of 
roses for Weber. The King respected him, but he was never on 
terms of friendly intimacy with the royal family or the court. His 
position was somewhat ambiguous: his great work as a composer 
lay ahead of him, and at this period he was known chiefly as the 
fashioner of epidemically popular choruses, an efficient conductor 
and master of stagecraft, and a pianist of eminence. Even when the 
enormous success of Der Freischutz made him as well known in 
Germany as Beethoven, the Dresdeners had difficulty in believing 
that their German Kapellmeister was a really important man. The 
indifference of the King and the court was more than matched by 
the hostility of the Italian company and its intriguing and malin- 
gering director, bold in his certainty that Friedrich Augustus pre- 
ferred his kind of music. It is difficult to believe that Weber, with 
his frail physique and waning energy, could have breasted this tide 
of opposition alone. He was buoyed up by the assurance that 
Caroline Brandt would at last become his wife. From a rather 
frivolous soubrette with a trivial attitude toward music and a hazy 
notion of Weber's potentialities, she had developed into a woman 
of strong character and mature understanding, willing to forgo 
her career in opera in order to fulfill Weber's exacting specifica- 
tions for a wife. They were married in Prague on November 4, 

More important at least for posterity was the fact that on 
July 2 of that same year, Weber began the composition of Der 
Freischutz. He had been chewing this legend over in the cud of his 
memory for years, and in February, 1817, had written joyfully to 
Caroline, "Friedrich Kind is going to begin an opera-book for me 
this very day. The subject is admirable, interesting, and horribly 
exciting. . . . This is super-extra, for there's the very devil in it. He 
appears as the Black Huntsman; the bullets are made in a ravine 
at midnight, with spectral apparitions around. Haven't I made 
your flesh creep upon your bones?" And yet, after this outburst of 
enthusiasm, Weber's work on his pet idea was absurdly dilatory: at 
the end of ifi 1 7 he had completed only one aria and sketched a few 

WEBER 217 

scenes; in 1818 he devoted exactly three days to Der Freischutz; 
in March, 1819, he took one day off to write the finale of the first 
act, and then laid the score aside for six months. In September, he 
resumed work, this time seriously, and on May 13, 1820, blotted 
the last notes of the overture, which he had left until the end. It is a 
strange tale, this story of the composition of the germinal master- 
piece of romantic opera, and in it we may read how the incubus of 
Weber's dilettantism almost stifled his first major creative effort. 
His tragedy was that, at a time when he most needed serious train- 
ing, he was exposed to the pedagogical chicane of the Abbe Vogler, 
and now he had no appetite for sustained hard work and no un- 
faltering technique just when his inspiration most cried out for 

Weber's slow progress with Der Freischutz was partly due to the 
press of his labors at the opera, which were made even heavier by 
Morlacchi's frequent absences, and the consequent demands on 
Weber's time at the Italian opera. Then, too, his official position 
obliged him to write occasional large compositions for court func- 
tions and national fetes, notably to celebrate the fiftieth anni- 
versary of the King's accession a jubilee cantata whose arias are 
effective in the Haydn oratorio tradition, and are still occasionally 
sung. Furthermore, he frittered away what leisure he had in the 
composition of a number of more or less charming salon pieces, 
including that hardy perennial, Invitation to the Dance., which gave 
hints to both Chopin and Johann Strauss, and which has, indeed,, 
far more historical than musical significance. 

After Der Freischutz was completed, more than a year elapsed 
before it was produced. Forewarned by the cold indifference of the 
ruling powers at Dresden toward his aspirations as a composer, 
Weber promised his new opera to Berlin, and Count Briihl, in- 
tendant of the court theater there, had assured him that it would 
be used to inaugurate the new Schauspielhaus in the spring of 
1820. But the opening of the theater was postponed for a year, and 
Weber, calm in the conviction that he had written a masterpiece* 
and that its production would establish his name forever, spent his 
summer-vacation months in an extended and strenuous tour with 
his wife. Their route carried them into Denmark, and at Copen- 
hagen they were feted by the royal family. They did not return to 
Dresden until November. Meanwhile, Weber was busy composing: 


no fewer than three big compositions intervened between the com- 
pletion of Der Freischutz and its premiere. The first of these was an 
overture and incidental music to Preciosa, a gypsy drama based on 
a novel by Cervantes. The music, charming and atmospheric, is 
one of the first attempts by a foreigner to imitate Spanish rhythms 
and color; it is a precursor of an eminent line followed by such 
men as Rimsky-Korsakov, Bizet, Debussy, and Ravel. The music 
created a furore in Berlin, and served to pave the way for Der 
Freischutz. Weber next tried his hand at a comic opera, likewise 
with a Spanish setting, but though he worked at it on and off for 
two years, Die drei Pintos was finally laid aside incomplete. 

Weber's third big enterprise was the still-famous Conzertstuck^ 
one of the most popular piano concertos written in the nineteenth 
century. Actually composed in his spare hours during the re- 
hearsals of Der Freischutz, the Conzertstilck was finished the very 
morning of the opera's premiere, when Weber, sitting down to the 
piano, played the entire concerto for his wife and proteg6 and 
pupil, Julius Benedict, meanwhile reciting the highly romantic but 
stereotyped program on which it is based: a medieval lady is pining 
to death for her knight, absent in the Holy Land; she sees a vision 
of him dying, and just as she is sinking back in a deathly swoon, 
horns are heard, and her hero bursts into the room. "She sinks into 
his arms" mark of expression: con molto fuoco e con leggier ezza. 
It is all very effective, especially the march of the returning war- 
riors and the swift weaving of triumphant love harmonies on 
which the curtain falls. Weber, as one of the greatest pianists of the 
time, knew how to write music that was at once dramatic and 
pianistic, though certain effects, particularly the glissando oc- 
taves when the knight enters the lady's chamber, are difficult to 
achieve with the heavier action of the modern grand piano. The 
Conzertstiick, exciting, showy, and but a step above the superficial, 
is no longer much played. 

When Weber arrived in Berlin to rehearse Der Freischutz^ he 
found the whole town given over to the cult of Spontini, who had 
lately been installed as tsar of all the musical activities there. More- 
over, Spontini was preparing to launch the German premiere of 
his own Olympie on a supercolossal scale, doubtless hoping by this 
Hollywood stroke to make the capital his forever. And its success 
more than confirmed the worst fears of Weber's friends: Olympic, 

WEBER 2ig 

with its huge and expensive scenic display, stupefied the Berliners 
into submission. With the fate of romantic opera hanging in the 
balance, Weber alone persisted in believing that all was well, and 
went calmly and methodically ahead with his preparations. It is, 
then, all the more remarkable that, badgered by his wife and 
friends, and about to measure swords with the reigning favorite, 
he was able to compose the Conzertstuck between rehearsals. He 
was right; his friends were wrong. On the evening of June 18, 1821, 
Berlin heard Der Freischutz and Spontini was dethroned. The 
decision was never even momentarily in doubt: the overture was 
encored, and with every succeeding number the temperature of 
the audience seemed to rise until, at the end, Weber was accorded 
an ovation unparalleled in the annals of the town. Among the 
celebrities who witnessed the victory of musical romanticism were 
Heine, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Felix Mendelssohn. The apt if 
embarrassing finale for Weber was being crowned with a laurel 
wreath, at three o'clock in the morning, by Hoffmann, himself 
one of the founding fathers of romanticism. 

Within six months, Der Freischutz was given to shouting audi- 
ences all over Germany. On October 3, Vienna set its seal of ap- 
proval on it quite as decisively as Berlin, and the following January 
Dresden partly wiped off its indebtedness to Weber by a demon- 
stration that resembled a riot. Romanticism, essentially a great 
popular movement, had long been awaiting a musical document to 
match its achievements in the other arts, and here it was. Every- 
thing about Der Freischutz appealed to the German people: it was 
emotional to the point of melodrama; it exploited the supernatural 
and the macabre; it glorified purity (Agathe is the ancestress of 
Parsifal and of the Dumb Girl of Portici), and it spun its tale 
chiefly in the easily understood popular idiom of the day. In short, 
it was German through and through or so it seemed to its 
listeners in 1821, though nowadays not a little of it sounds like 
snippets of Rossini, whom Weber detested as the archfiend of the 
meretricious. The still immensely popular overture is practically 
a potpourri of the best things in the opera, and a truncated version 
of Der Freischutz based on these would slight little of value. Yet, a 
severe critic, used to the glib craftsmanship of even our least 
talented composers, might describe this overture as "one damn 
thing after another," for nowhere is Weber's musical joinery more 


obvious or less successful. At least two of the arias likewise endure: 
Max's lyric "Durch die Walder" has afresh and spontaneous quality 
and a real infusion of the forest glade; Agathe's dramatic yet 
meditative "Leise, leise" is, with a single exception, Weber's most 
inspired music for the soprano voice. 

The critics had, with few exceptions, received Der Freischutz 
rapturously. Among the dissenters, however, stood the pontifical 
Ludwig Tieck, an eminent theoretician of the arts, and Weber's 
friend Spohr. They complained that it was only a Singspiel in a 
new idiom, and that it lacked both the unity and largeness of 
effect that bespeak a master. Weber was so nettled that when he 
received from Domenico Barbaia a commission from the Karnt- 
nerthortheater in Vienna, he sat down cold-bloodedly to write a 
true grand opera to prove, in short, that he was not merely a 
man with a genius for melody, but also a master of his craft. He 
started off on the wrong foot by accepting a libretto that reads like 
a hoax by Robert Benchley, actually from the pen of a Dresden 
poetess, Helmine von Chezy. Weber made her revise the script 
nine times, and then gave up in despair. 1 * On December 15, 182 1, 
he began to compose Euryanthe^ which was finished in less than a 
year, but was not mounted until October 25, 1823. Vienna, then 
being served Rossini's sparkling champagne by the amiable bottler 
himself, gave the composer of Der Freischutz a respectable welcome 
at the pvemiere of his new opera and turned again to Italian de- 
Hghts. Weber was in despair, and began to doubt himself. He even 
admitted that some of Rossini's stuff was good. For him, depres- 
sion could go no farther. He returned to Dresden, and for fifteen 
months his pen was allowed to gather rust. 

In view of the fairly uniform unpopularity ofEuryanthe, it seems 
that the Viennese reaction was justified. Performances are rare: 
the opera has not been produced in the United States since Tos- 
canini made a valiant attempt to force it back into the Metro- 
politan repertoire after twenty-seven years' neglect, on December 
19, 1914, with Frieda Hempel in the name part. It was later 
revived at Salzburg, when W. J. Turner, after agreeing that "the 

* The absurdity of the libretto may be judged from the fact that the action 
hinges on an event that takes place before the opera really begins. To acquaint the 
audience with these cogent matters, the conscientious Weber hit on the scheme of 
raising the curtain during the overture, and showing this necessary prologue in a 
Idbleau vivant. 

WEBER 221 

music never falls below a certain high level of craftsmanship and 
even of invention/ 5 pronounced the opera as a whole "curiously 
uninspired and unmoving." Mr. Turner's dislike of romantic 
music is well known. However, Edward J. Dent, with no parti pris % 
s*ays, "Ewytmtke . . . contains much beautiful music, but it is so 
badly constructed that it has always been a failure." Mr. Turner 
and Professor Dent represent the consensus. Sir Donald Tovey, on 
the other hand,, is strongly aligned with the minority. What his 
arguments amount to is that if the libretto is refashioned com- 
pletely, and some of the music is deleted or transposed, and some 
slight additions are made, the result can be highly effective. Even 
if his contention is correct > it merely confirms the general judg- 
ment that Weber failed in Euryanthe to show that he was a master 
of his craft. Its living fragments are fewer than those of Der Frei- 
schutz: only the overture, a spirited and high-flown pastiche whose 
moments of lyric beauty and melodic pageantry hint at what we 
would be missing if Weber's accomplishment had but matched his 
intentions. Ironically , no one has better summed up the general 
feeling about Euryanthe than Schubert,, himself a notorious offender 
as a craftsman: "This is no music. There is no finale, no concerted 
piece according to the rules of art. It is all striving after effect. And 
he finds fault with Rossini! It is utterly dry and dismal." 

Weber returned to Dresden with but a single happy memory of 
his stay in Vienna the cordial friendliness of Beethoven, whose 
music he had at last come to appreciate. He had lately staged 
Fidelio with loving care after consulting the master about every 
difficult point, and had become a leading interpreter of his piano 
sonatas. Beethoven expressed great admiration for Der Freischiltz, 
and assured Weber that he would have attended the first night of 
Euryanthe if he had not been deaf. But it needed more than Bee- 
thoven's admiration to bolster up Weber's flagging spirits, his 
mortally wounded self-esteem. Tuberculosis was gaining on him so 
rapidly that his horrified friends saw him become an old man in 
the course of a few months. During r824 he stuck close to his offi- 
cial duties, and it was at about this time that the young Wagner, 
"with something akin to religious awe," saw the thin stooped 
figure going to and from rehearsals at the opera, and occasionally 
stopping in to talk with Frau Geyer, the boy's mother. That 
summer, however, Weber received an invitation from Charles 


Kemble, that "first-rate actor of second-rate parts/' who was then 
the lessee of Covent Garden, to compose an opera in English for 
London. After protracted negotiations, the bait was increased 
Benedict says to 1000 and Weber could not refuse, even when 
his doctor warned him that only complete idleness could assure 
him of living more than a few months: he had to think of the 
future of his wife and son. Moreover, Caroline was well advanced 
in her second pregnancy. He wrote Kemble his acceptance, and 
energetically set about learning English, to such effect that within 
a year he was speaking it fluently. 

Weber began to compose his last opera Oberon., or The Elf 
King's Oath on January 23, 1825. The libretto, an adaptation by 
an English Huguenot, James Robinson Planche, of an English 
translation of a German version of an old French romance, ar- 
rived at Weber's house piecemeal, and so the composer was long 
left in the dark as to the final direction of the drama he was il- 
lustrating. The story of Oberon is as complicated as that of Eury- 
antke, and even sillier (after the first performance, Planche said to 
Weber, "Next time we will show them what we really can do"!). 
The scene shifts bafflingly from fairyland to Charlemagne's court 
to Baghdad, while true love remains true in the face of the most 
preposterous temptations. The setting of this lamentable farrago 
was pursued throughout 1825, an d the following February Weber, 
with Oberon all but complete, left Dresden on his last journey. He 
stopped off at Paris to visit Cherubini and Auber, and to make his 
peace with Rossini. The pathetic scene between the two men is 
vividly described by the generous Italian: 

"Immediately the poor man saw me he thought himself obliged 
to confess . . . that in some of his criticisms he had been too severe 
on my music. . . . 'Don't let's speak of it,' I interrupted. . . . 'Allow 
me to embrace you. If my friendship can be of any value to you, I 
offer it with all my heart. . . .' 

"He was in a pitiable state: livid in the face, emaciated, with a 
terrible, dry cough a heartrending sight. A few days later, he re- 
turned to ask me for a few letters of introduction in London. Aghast 
at the thought of seeing him undertake such a journey in such a 
state, I tried to dissuade him, telling him that he was committing 
suicide, nothing less. In vain, however. C I know,' he answered, 

WEBER 223 

C I shall die there; but I must go. I have got to produce Oberon in 
accordance with the contract I have signed; I must go. 5 " 

Warmed by Rossini's magnanimity, and inspired by the lavish 
praises of Cherubim, whom he revered, Weber left Paris on March 
2, and was in London three days later, making his headquarters at 
the house of Sir George Smart, a distinguished conductor. The 
next day he went to inspect Covent Garden, and was recognized 
and warmly cheered by the audience Der Freischutz was the rage 
of London, and at one time had been playing simultaneously at 
three theaters. A few days later, rehearsals began, and Weber at 
once realized that he had found his ideal company. Braham and 
Paton, respectively the Max and the Agathe of the first English 
Freischutz, were secured for the roles of the lovers, and the scarcely 
less important role of Fatima was entrusted to Mme Vestris 
precisely the kind of stellar cast a devotee of opera would give his 
soul to have heard. Weber appreciated Braham so much that he 
broke a lifelong rule, and wrote two special tenor numbers for him. 
The rehearsals went beautifully, and the first performance, on 
April 12, 1826, was felt by Weber to have approached perfection. 
The audience thought so too, and he was able to write with deep 
thanksgiving to his beloved Caroline: 

"Thanks to God and to His all-powerful will I obtained this 
evening the greatest success of my life. The emotion produced by 
such a triumph is more than I can describe. To God alone belongs 
the glory. When I entered the orchestra, the house, crammed to the 
roof, burst into a frenzy of applause. Hats and handkerchiefs were 
waved in the air. The overture had to be executed twice, as had 
also several pieces in the opera itself. At the end of the representa- 
tion,, I was called on the stage by the enthusiastic acclamations of 
the public; an honor which no composer had ever before obtained 
in England." 

Oberon is not really an opera. It is, rather, a drama with inci- 
dental music: when the action is going on, the music is stilled, and 
the music, paradoxically, weaves its atmospheric spells only when 
the action is suspended. It is therefore not surprising that it has 
failed to hold the stage. The only vocal number still popular is 
"Ocean, thou mighty monster," a gigantic soprano scena which ad- 
mirably displays at its best Weber's magnificent if reckless han- 
dling of the human voice, and which foreshadows in effect if not 


in style those epic battles Wagner staged between voice and or- 
chestra. Its melody, too, is the climax of the most popular of 
Weber's overtures, by far the most nicely constructed of his purely 
orchestral pieces. Much of the other music in Oberon is thoroughly 
delightful as well as dramatically clever, and there is no reason to 
believe that a concert version omitting the spoken dialogue would 
not be popular. Salvaging the libretto itself is quite out of the 

The dying man became a favorite not only of the populace hut 
also of the Duchess of Kent (who was not fashionable, even though 
her daughter Victoria was almost certain to become Queen of 
England), and of certain other minor royalties. Possibly as a result 
of this., the nobility held aloof, and on the few occasions when Carl 
Maria von Weber appeared as a pianist at fashionable gatherings, 
he was >used scurvily, made to sit apart from the guests,, refused the 
common politeness of silence while he played, and in every way 
treated as the inferior of the Italian -singers who were the rage of 
the day. But the pay was good, and to the very end Weber was 
obsessed by the necessity of leaving his family well provided for. 
Unfortunately, a concert on the proceeds of which he had relied 
was scheduled for Derby Day May 26 and many of the most 
famous musicians in England performed mainly to empty seats. 

This was Weber's last appearance in public. Daily he grew 
weaker, and though preparations for his return to Germany pro- 
ceeded apace, it was soon apparent to all but the dying man him- 
self that his own prophecy to Rossini, that he would die in Eng- 
land, was about to come true. On the morning of July 6 y 1826, a 
servant found him dead in bed. He was not yet forty years of age. 
He was buried in London in the presence of a tremendous crowd, 
and rested there until 1844, when his wife petitioned to have his re- 
mains brought back to the family vault in Dresden.* Wagner, who 
had been one of the leaders in the movement to ,get Weber's body 
for -Gernmany, arranged from Euryanthe the special music for the 
reinterment, and delivered a stirring oration at the tomb. 

Today we hear so little of Weber's music that it is easy to forget 
how strongly he influenced other composers. With a literary bent 

* The intendant of the opera was against the whole idea on the grounds that it 
might furnish a precedent for exhuming the body of any Dresden Kapellmeister who 
happened to die out of town. 

WEBER 225 

as marked as Schumann's, he gave to his operas the most char- 
acteristic, and certainly the most important, products of his .genius 
a definitely extramusical quality that asserted itself in innova- 
tions of varying degrees of merit, but all broadly suggestive to 
rebels and questioners of the past. His interest in folklore, par- 
ticularly in its more violent and macabre aspects, his excessive 
nationalism, and his hankering after the overwrought had, to- 
gether and separately, a vast progeny. Schumann, Berlioz, Chopin, 
and Liszt marched, at one time or another, under his flamboyant 
banner. He poured new color into the orchestra. Looking at every 
field of composition through exaggeratedly theatrical eyes, ke 
composed acres of now unplayed virtuoso pieces, themselves too 
essentially febrile, too dependent on mere surface effects, to last, 
but which gave strong hints to Liszt and others of his stripe. 
Weber's final epitaph must be, however, that he made German 
opera respectable. With a bold gesture, he turned his hack on the 
past, and on the ridiculous fallacy that German opera must be 
Italian or it could not be good. Weber's stand gave courage to 
Wagner when he needed it, and nothing more fitting can be con- 
ceived than the forger of Der Ring des Nibelungen pronouncing the 
panegyric on the composer of Euryanthe* 

Chapter IX 

Gioacchino Antonio Rossini 

(Pesaro, February 29, lygs-November 13, 1868, Paris) 

IN MARCH, 1860, a young composer who was desperately trying to 
win the battle of musical Paris, made a respectful call on a 
portly old gentleman who., having won that battle many years 
before, now sat godlike above the strife and storm. Later, the 
creator of Der Ring des Mbelungen, recollecting this meeting, de- 
clared that his host was "the only person I had so far met in the 
artistic world who was really great and worthy of reverence. 5 ' 
Nowadays we would think twice before speaking in such terms of 
the composer of The Barber of Seville for Wagner's host was 
Rossini and the very fact that Weber's greatest successor as 
champion of German opera so emphatically expressed his esteem 
for one whom his master had regarded as a fabricator of tawdry 
and frivolous tunes makes us feel that the current low opinion of 
Rossini (precisely Weber's) needs revising. As that opinion is based 
largely on performances of the overtures to William Tell and Semira- 
mide by brass bands, for which they were not written, and overen- 
thusiastic renditions of the "Largo al factotum" it has not un- 
naturally overlooked the excellent musical ideas in which those 
pieces abound. Wagner's opinion, on the other hand, grew out of 
an acquaintance with many of Rossini's operas sung by the great- 
est singers of the time. Wagner's opinions were seldom haphazard, 
and though he was equally well acquainted with the operas of 
Donizetti, there is no record that he ever expressed any admiration 
for the composer of Lucia di Lammermoor. 

Whether Weber or Wagner was nearer the truth about Rossini's 
music, the man himself is one of the most fascinating figures in 
the history of the arts. He began his unusual career by being born 
on the last day of a leap-year February. His father combined the 
offices of town trumpeter and inspector of slaughterhouses at 
Pesaro, a little Adriatic seaport; his mother, a baker's daughter, 
was extremely pretty, and from her Gioacchino inherited his good 
looks. The Rossinis quite equaled the Webers in nomadic habits, 
and while they wandered from theater to theater, Giuseppe play- 



ing the horn and Anna singing, the boy was left with relatives in 
Pesaro. He grew up like a weed, had practically no schooling, and 
was nothing more than a street arab. His first music teacher played 
the piano with only two fingers, and went to sleep during lessons. 
Item: not much progress was made, and there seemed to be 
method to his father's apprenticing him to a blacksmith after the 
family was reunited in the village of Lugo. But Gioacchino showed 
a new tractability, also a vast yearning for more musical instruc- 
tion. So he was turned over to a priest, who taught him to sing and 
inspired him with such a love of Haydn and Mozart that he be- 
came known, later on, as "the little German." 

Removal to Bologna meant better teachers, though not always 
more congenial ones. Rossini learned several instruments, and his 
fresh soprano voice was in much demand, mainly in churches. It is 
recorded, too, that in 1805 he played a child's role in an opera. The 
next year, the Accademia Filarmonica elected him a fellow, just 
as they had his idol Mozart, thirty-six years before, at precisely the 
same age. Gratified, he enrolled at the Liceo, and entered the 
counterpoint class of Padre Mattei, a redoubtable pedant whose 
method was to treat his pupils as so many peas in a pod, and who 
almost killed Rossini's enthusiasm. Not quite, however, for he be- 
gan to compose, and even won a medal in counterpoint. But he did 
not finish his course, as his family's growing destitution made it 
necessary for him to skip fugue in order to help support them by 
various musical odd jobs. 

Rossini was eighteen when he left the Liceo, and fairly ill 
equipped to hang out his shingle as a professional composer. That 
did not hinder him from accepting a commission to do a one-act 
opera for the Teatro San Mose at Venice. American subjects seem 
to be too exotic for Italian composers: the Canadian villain of La 
Cambiale di matrimonio is about as credible as the cowpunchers of 
Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West, and the music cannot be very 
much worse. The tiny opera was a success, and so Rossini, with 
coins jingling in his pockets and his head in the clouds, returned 
to Bologna. Never was so popular and prolific a talent launched 
with so little fanfare. San Mose was not one of the really big houses, 
but the applause, that November night in 1810, gave Rossini the 
idea that opera could be a profitable business. As with George 
Sand and her novels, composing operas was as easy for him as 


turning on a faucet: during the next nineteen years he composed 
almost forty of them, sometimes at the rate of five a year. Within 
six years of his debut at Venice, he had achieved performances at 
both of Italy's leading theaters the San Carlo at Naples and La 
Scala at Milan and had written the most popular opera of the 
nineteenth century. 

After a false start in 1 8 1 1, Rossini produced, the next year, three 
successes and three failures all equally forgotten, though Tos- 
canini has a fondness for the overture to La Scala di seta a brightly 
colored puppy chasing its tail. Another of them La Pietra del 
paragone was mounted at La Scala in the autumn, and was 
Rossini's first important success. In the overture occurs the earliest 
of those long crescendos which eventually degenerated into a mere 
mannerism, but which created a great furore at the time. The de- 
vice was not original with this master of musical trickery: he had 
lifted it from others who did not know its strength, but it helped 
largely in securing fifty performances for La Pietra del paragone 
the first season. With Napoleon's recruiting sergeants active 
throughout Lombardy, it was lucky for Rossini that the general 
commanding in Milan was a devotee of La Pietra: he exempted its 
composer from service a lucky break for the French army, 
Rossini said.. A rich crop of false stories has grown up about many 
of those early operas, but the truth of one story that sounds like a 
myth is attested by the score itself. Finding that a certain contralto 
had only one good note in her voice middle B flat be wrote for 
her an aria in which the orchestra carries the melody while she 
repeats B flat ad infinitum. The audience (who customarily chat- 
tered and ate sherbet at that given point in the second act when 
the poor seconda donna stepped forward to do her stint) applauded 
in a rapture,, the singer was transported at being noticed at all, 
and the composer patted himself on the back. 

Rossini wrote only four operas in 1813, the first of which R 
Signor Bruschinovfa.& first produced in the United States in De- 
cember, 1932, at the Metropolitan, as a curtain raiser to Richard 
Strauss 3 Elektmz. clever stroke of musical contrast that left the 
conservatives in the audience with an uneasy feeling that they 
had won a famous victory. The libretto is a wearisome comedy of 
errors based on willfully mistaken identities, which Rossini has 
honored with a delicious and lighthearted score. As it abounds m 


outrageously bujfa effects, the Venetians suspected that he was pok- 
ing fun at them, and would have none of Mr. Bruschino and his 
son. Offenbach revised it for the frivolous Parisians of the Second 
Empire; they took it to their hearts, and today it is the earliest of 
Rossini's operas likely to remain in the roster. Far different was the 
effect on the Venetians of Tancredi^ a serious opera cut on rather 
grandiose lines, and based on Voltaire out of Tasso. The overture, 
though borrowed from an earlier opera, smote the first-nighters 
with an impact of spurious freshness, and one of the arias "D 
tanti palpiti" caught like wildfire, and overnight became a public 
nuisance. In Tancredi, Rossini took a hint from Mozart, and began 
to give the orchestra a more important and expressive role than 
Italian composers usually did. His next offering to Venice, which 
he now held completely in thrall, was a comedy Ultaliana in 
Algeri. Pitts Sanborn has called this delicious entertainment, with 
its echoes of Haydn, Mozart, and Ciniarosa, "one of the glories of 
Rossini's youthful years, when melodies bubbled as birds sing, 
when his slyness and his incomparable wit had all of their joyous 
recklessness." The overture has survived precisely because it 
crystallizes those qualities. 

At twenty-one the Swan of Pesaro (for such was the nickname of 
this stout, floridly handsome young man with a pleasing tenor 
voice) was the most successful composer in Italy, and though he 
never made a fortune until he left the country, he was already sup- 
porting himself and his parents in comfort. And now, with two 
tremendous hits, he felt established. His next three operas were 
flops, more or less deservedly. About the third of these Rossini 
himself had no illusions: he always had a tender spot in his heart 
for the Venetians for listening to it in silent martyrdom rather 
than throwing brickbats at him. Possibly because of a feeling that 
he might be going stale, he retired to Bologna for several months to 
be with his parents (his devotion to his mother was always mor- 
bidly intense) and to think things out. This last was a difficult job, 
considering that as a result of Bonaparte's escape from Elba the 
town was soon swarming with Murafs insolent troopers. Rossini's 
solitude was rudely but welcomely invaded by Domenico Barbaia, 
a preposterous fellow who had risen from the scullery to the direc- 
tion of Italy's most important opera houses. He now bestrode the 
musical life of Naples like a colossus, and had come to offer Rossini 


nay, to dictate that he take a position as his chief of staff. The 
terms were fair enough, and by the middle of 1815 Rossini was 
established in his new home. 

Never did Rossini play his cards better. Realizing that Barbaia's 
Spanish mistress, Isabella Colbran, was the real power at the San 
Carlo, he soon was on such a footing with her that supplanting the 
impresario in her affections was merely a matter of waiting for the 
strategic moment. He set out cold-bloodedly to compose an opera 
Elisabetta, regina Inghilterra that would display the special 
qualities of her voice and acting ability. The sumptuously cos- 
tumed role, teeming with situations that ill befit a virgin queen, 
gave her a wonderful chance to show off her statuesque beauty. 
Colbran played the part to the hilt: her acting rather than his 
music captured Naples for Rossini. Probably the most signal proof 
of the diva's affection for him was that she allowed him to write 
out the vocal ornaments in her arias. This simple action, which 
today is taken for granted, seemed revolutionary to singers ac- 
customed to embellish their melodic line with improvised orna- 
ments that sometimes completely distorted it. 

With Venice, Milan, and Naples in his pocket, Rossini took a 
leave of absence, and laid siege to Rome. But for a siege one needs 
siege guns and he had provided himself with birdshot. The 
Romans hissed his insultingly careless offering, and the perpe- 
trator of the outrage sent his mother a drawing of a large, straw- 
covered bottle known throughout Italy as & fiasco. Fortunately for 
him, he had signed the contract for his second Roman opera be- 
fore this rashly ventured premiere. This time he himself selected the 
libretto a version of Beaumarchais 5 Le Barbier de Seville and 
worked on it with such ardor that within a fortnight he had pro- 
duced a complete opera. One of the reasons that he finished it so 
expeditiously was that he borrowed numbers from five of his earlier 
operas. However, the new material is so fresh, so apparently 
eternal, that, even with his wholesale plagiarizings from himself, 
his accomplishment remains a miracle. Verdi, himself an occa- 
sional high-speed artist, only partly explained it away by saying 
that Rossini must have been revolving the music in his mind long 
before he began to write it down. 

First produced at the Teatro di Torre Argentina on February 
20, 1816, The Barber of Seville was a resounding failure. Out of 


deference to the aged Giovanni Paisiello, who for almost half a 
century had held musical sway over Naples, and whose setting of 
the same Beaumarchais libretto had once been popular, and was 
still well known in Italy, Rossini introduced his own version under 
the title of Almaviva, ossia V inutile precauzione. Useless precaution it 
was, indeed, for Paisiello from his very deathbed he died early 
the following June seems to have posted a claque in the house in 
order to strangle the opera in its cradle. With the help of several 
ludicrous accidents, Paisiello's plotting ruined the first night. 
Rossini rushed home sure that all was lost, though \vhen some 
friends came to console him he was asleep or pretending to be. 
The next night he absented himself on a plea of illness. This time 
his friends roused him with better news: the Romans had show r n a 
measured but definite liking for The Barber. Other cities made up 
for Rome's reticence. Within a season or two, it became the rage 
of Italy, and then in a space of but few years of Europe. On 
November 29, 1825, ^ ess than ten years after its premiere, it reached 
New York* the first opera to be sung there in Italian brought 
thither by Manuel Garcia, the original Almaviva of the Rome 
cast. It became the most popular opera of the nineteenth century, 
and though newer operas have forced it from first place, it shows 
no signs of being shelved. Today Rossini's Barber is more than a 
century and a quarter old, and still in the best of health. 

As one of the two signal triumphs of the pure buffa spirit in 
music, The Barber of Seville ranks with Le Nozze di Figaro. Both are 
based on Beaumarchais they are, in fact, Books I and II of the 
same great story but there, in the deepest sense, the resemblance 
ends. Where Mozart is delicate and witty, Rossini is deft and 
comic. Both the Austrian and the Italian are sophisticated, but of 
Rossini's of-the-world worldliness there is no trace in Mozart. Le 
Nozze rises to ineffable tenderness in its love scenes; The Barber is 
supremely the music of gallantry gay, mocking, kno\ving, of un- 
flawed superficiality. Best to sum up the difference between these 
two masterpieces, one must call in the aid of metaphysics: The 
Barber is a great opera bujfai Le Nozze is a great opera in the buffa 

The Barber abounds in music which for sheer gaiety, brio, and 
irreverence has never been surpassed. Hardened operagoers will 

* An abridged version had been presented there as early as 1819. 


not be inclined to dispute the statement that it is one of a pitiably- 
meager number of operas that are long but seem short. The pace is 
breathless, from the brilliant overture* to the hearty finale where 
all loose ends are tied together in the tidiest way possible. That 
immortal piece of nose-thumbing, the "Largo al factotum" comes 
dangerously early in the first act, but what follows is so good that 
there is no sense of anticlimax. A half hour later comes "Una voce 
poco fa" an extravagant but singularly apt outburst of vocal 
bravura. A fine bass aria (Rossini was one of the first to use this 
voice importantly in opera) known as the "Calumny Song" was 
made the focal point of a remarkable possibly (since it tended to 
upset the equilibrium of the opera as a whole) a too remarkable 
performance by the late Feodor Chaliapin. To list the good things 
in The Barber would be to name substantially every number in it. 
However, some absurdities have crept in,, notably in the "Lesson 
Scene." Rossini had written some very effective music for the con- 
tralto who created the role of Rosina, but when it was transposed 
for coloratura soprano (then, as now, wanting to outdo the flute), 
the original music was discarded, and the Rosina of the occasion 
allowed to choose her own, her own usually being anything suffi- 
ciently gymnastic and unmusical. That superb showwoman^ 
Adelina Patti, considered by oldsters as the greatest of Rosinas, 
first discovered that she could actually interpolate such an anach- 
ronistic, and voice-resting, ditty as Home, Sweet Home, and get 
away with it. She had, in fact,, nothing quite so sure-fire in her bag 
of tricks. 

Back in Naples after The Barber, Rossini rested. In September, 
he brought out a flop, and then, toward the end of the year, burst 
forth like a nova, composing in the six-month period from De- 
cember, 1816, to May, 1817 three of his finest scores. Colbran 
was by now his obsession, and he strove to find a. role that would 
display the more pathetic side of her histrionic ability. That of 
Desdemona, in Shakespeare's Othello, seemed promising. So far, so 
good. But next, as if bent upon proving that bis choice of an effec- 
tive libretto for The Barber had been utterly fortuitous, he allowed a 
highborn hack to tinker with the story. The resulting ravages, 
briefly, were these: the Moor was reduced to a bundle of nerves, 

* Not the original one, which was lost soon after the first Rome season. What we 
hear had done service, for two, earlier operas before being attached to. Tk& Barber. 


lago became a Relentless Rudolph, and Desdemona became even 
more feeble-minded than she is in Shakespeare.* Rossini lavished 
on this pitiable makeshift some of his most beautiful music, par- 
ticularly in the third act (which the librettist had tampered with 
least) , and everything about Otello bespeaks his earnest devotion to 
the task of creating a serious opera. Here, for the first time, Italian 
opera caught up with the up-to-date productions of the French and 
German composers: the piano-supported recitative was abandoned 
for continuous orchestral background, thus permitting whole 
scenes to be conceived as uninterrupted musical units. Otello was 
for more than half a century one of the most popular operas of the 
standard repertoire, and might still be sung today if it had not been 
superseded by one of the masterpieces of Verdi's old age, which, 
moreover, had the advantage of a superb libretto by Arrigo Boito. 

In La Cenerentola, produced at Rome on January 25, 1817, Ros- 
sini recoiled from seriousness as far as possible, reverting to buff a. 
As he had a lifelong aversion to representing the supernatural 
on the stage (in sharp contradistinction to Weber), he instructed 
his tame librettist to excise the fairy element from this version of 
the Cinderella legend, and so left the heroine little more than a 
poor slavey who outwits her flashy, scheming sisters and dishonest 
father at their own game. La Cenerentola is definitely something not 
to take the children to. The score is second only to that -of The 
Barber in gaiety and glitter, and though the libretto leaves much 
to be desired, the opera is good entertainment from beginning to 
end. Unfortunately, Cinderella needs a florid mezzo voice of a 
sort that is all but extinct, and since the death of Conchita Su- 
pervia no one has attempted to sing the role. Another reason for 
the opera's disappearance from the stage is that it belongs, as one 
of Rossini's early biographers said, "to the composite order of 
operatic architecture 3 J : that is, much of it, including the overture, 
is borrowed indiscriminately from his earlier operas, and therefore 
does not fit the spirit of La Cemrentola. He even called in another 
composer to supply two arias. 

In May, 1817, Rossini made a triumphal return to La Scala 

* The modern dislike of unhappy endings is not modern. At many performances 
of Otello^ it was found necessary to close with a reconciliation scene between the 
Moor and Ms bride. When the tragedy was allowed to run its course, the audience 
turned the action into farce by audibly warning Desdemona that Othello was coin- 
ing to strangle her. 

234 MEN OF 

with the third opera of this notable group La Gazza ladra, a 
picaresque tale of a thieving magpie. As he was in disgrace with the 
Milanese as the result of two consecutive failures in their city, he 
took special pains with all details of this new work. He found a 
story with wide variety of appeal it contains almost all type dra- 
matic situations except pure tragedy and set it not only with 
inspired intuition but also with an intelligent grasp of the subtle 
relationships of character, incident, and music. He gave such un- 
precedented importance to the orchestra that Stendhal, his first 
biographer, complained of the heaviness of the scoring: up to this 
point he had yielded to none in his worship of Rossini, but from 
now on he insisted on regarding him (with qualifications) as an 
angel who had been tempted by the Germans, and had fallen. But 
surrendering to the Germans was not a mortal sin in 1817, and 
soon La Gazza was being sung from one end of Europe to another. 
In 1833 this ubiquitous magpie came ashore at New York, and 
warbled under the aegis of no less a personage than Mozart's erst- 
while librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, and was used to inaugurate the 
city's first Italian opera house, at Church and Leonard Streets. 
Given an adequate cast. La Gazza could be successfully revived 
today: the overture (which really has a bearing on what follows) 
has a symphonic solidity and a distinction of contour that place it 
alongside that to William Tell, while many of the arias and con- 
certed numbers are among the best Rossini ever contrived. La 
Gazza might well have passed the tests of so severe a critic as Gluck, 
so sensitively does the music further the action. 

Little in the next five years of Rossini's life need detain anyone 
except the professional student of musical history. He wrote a 
dozen operas, most of which were successful. Their titles mean 
about as much to us now as those of Irving Berlin's musical come- 
dies will mean to our great-grandchildren. The music is, in most 
cases, as dead as the librettos, though Rossini later transformed 
two of the scores into extraordinarily successful French operas. 
Many of these productions he devised as stellar vehicles for Isa- 
bella Colbran, who by this time was openly his mistress, apparently 
with Barbaia complaisant. As Colbran's voice and beauty were 
both fading, and as, on the other hand, Rossini was the darling of 
Italy, it will be understood why Barbaia had so little difficulty in 
seeing everything and saying nothing. Probably he was as tired of 


Colbran as Naples was. On more than one occasion, the excitable 
Neapolitans flared out against the aging Spanish passion flower 
whose tiresome singing out of tune they could more easily forgive 
than her, and Barbaia's, espousal of the unpopular royalist cause. 
Her sultry wiles as the Lady of the Lake, in a curious version that 
poor Walter Scott would never have recognized, merely aroused a 
derisive demonstration Rossini thought was directed against him- 
self. A stagehand appeared with a request that he take a bow. 
Rossini knocked the fellow down, and left at once for Milan, 
where he told everyone that La Donna del lago had been a bang-up 
success. This was (he thought) a lie. Meanwhile, however, news of 
the acclamation that greeted La Donna's second night had reached 
Milan, and Rossini's bitter jest at himself missed fire. 

On July 20, 1820, the Neapolitans revolted, and drove Ferdi- 
nand I from his capital, also eventually affecting the fortunes of 
Barbaia, Colbran, and Rossini. Barbaia, as an avowed favorite of 
the King, was temporarily ruined, and began to lay plans for 
emigrating; Colbran, whose fortunes still depended on his, suffered 
further eclipse; finally, Rossini, tired of Naples anyway, w r as only 
waiting for his contract to run out, and used the crowd's hostility 
to his friends as a good excuse for leaving. The trio lingered in 
Naples until February, 1822, when Rossini took farewell of the 
San Carlo with %elmira, a score with which he had taken particular 
pains.* It was a triumph even Colbran seems to have shared, and 
she and Rossini left in a blaze of glory. The very day after %elmra 
closed, they started for Vienna, where Barbaia had found a new 
and lucrative berth for himself. They broke their journey at 
Bologna, and there, on March 16, 1822, Gioacchino Antonio 
Rossini made Isabella Angela Colbran a married woman. Whether 
he married her out of deference to his mother's prejudice in favor 
of legitimacy, or because she had a tidy annual income, remains an 
open question: doubtless both factors swayed Rossini in his deci- 
sion. What is certain is that by the time he got around to marrying 
Colbran, the great days of their romance were past. He was thirty, 
she thirty-seven. 

A week after their wedding, the Rossinis were in Vienna. The 
dashing maestro^ fame was already at the boiling point there, and 

* Not, however, out of love for the Neapolitans. %elmira had been devised espe- 
cially for Vienna, and he was using th**, San Carlo merely as a tryout house. 


he had only to make his entry into the city to carry all before him. 
There were, of course, anti-Rossinians, but they soon found that 
the most exasperating thing about Rossini was that it was im- 
possible to fight him: he disarmed his enemies with a smile. Several 
of his operas ware produced with such success that the sick and 
nervous Weber, struggling with the score of Euryanthe, was seized 
with alarm it boded ill that German opera was being betrayed 
in its very citadel. Vienna was soon in the throes of Rossiniosis: 
everyone from emperor to artisan had the symptoms a feverish 
rurn-tum-tum in the head and a tripping tongue. Austria's most 
notable musicians were not immune., Schubert succumbed, and 
even Beethoven, who was seeing no one, allowed the charmer to 
wait upon him. The titan warned Rossini to stay away from 
serious opera,, and advised him to "give us plenty of Barbers" 
Rossini, literally under the spell of the "Eroica" which he had just 
heard for the first time, and outraged by the sordidness of Bee- 
thoven's surroundings and his apparent neglect,, tried vainly to 
persuade his own rich admirers to join him in providing hand- 
somely for the greatest of living composers. Rossini's Viennese 
visit ended with a testimonial banquet at which he was presented 
with a silver vase containing thirty-five hundred ducats. 

Rossini was now so famous that Metternich invited him to at- 
tend that extraordinary gathering of high society known to history 
as the Congress of Verona, pointing out that naturally the God of 
Harmony was needed for its success. Here, then, while the Holy 
Alliance dawdled over the Greek Question and the Spanish Ques- 
tion and the Italian Question, Rossini served up a series of com- 
pletely uninspired cantatas fitting to the occasion. He met Alexander 
I, sang at a party at the Duke of Wellington's, and received a large 
collection of snuffboxes. The Congress of Verona was not a suc- 
cess, musically or politically. 

The hero's next destination was Venice, the scene of his debut. 
His return was inglorious. The Venetians hissed the indifferent 
vehicle he had chosen for his reappearance* though it appears that 
their real venom was aimed at Signora Rossini, whose now 
mediocre voice was not improved by a throat ailment. Rossini 
retired sulking to his palazzo, and in thirty days composed one of 
his longest, most carefully constructed, and impressive works. 
This was his last Italian opera, Semiramide^ the pompous but work- 


able libretto of which was furnished by that same Gaetano Rossi 
who had perpetrated the flimsy nothing on which he had first 
tried his hand thirteen years before. On the gore and incest of 
Rossi's monumental chronicle of Babylon's sensational queen and 
her lover-son, Rossini turned his full battery of tricks: a large 
patchwork overture in quasi-Weberian style, vocal fioriture of the 
most shameless sort, a monstrous example of his own peculiar 
crescendo. These did not suffice for the shattering effect at which 
he was aiming, so he put a brass band on the stage. It may not 
sound so, but all this was calculated to a nicety: after its premiere 
on February 3, 1823, Semiramide ran solidly for a month at the 
Fenice, and for several decades was everywhere considered Ros- 
sini's chef-d'oeuvre. There was something in it that got in people's 
blood; it went capitally, it seems, with deep draughts of after- 
dinner port, three-decker romances, the Exposition of 1851, and 
the opening of the Crystal Palace. But all things pass even the 
Crystal Palace and Semiramide passed with the follies of our 
grandparents. With quite amazing good taste, the Metropolitan 
has refrained from reviving it since 1895, when the combined 
talents of Melba, Scalchi, and Edouard de Reszke failed to re- 
establish it. Paging through its yellowed score is like ransacking a 
what-not: there are some pretty and affecting odds and ends, but 
an awful lot of trash. As to the famous overture, it is almost as 
popular as that to William Tell., and is possibly one tenth as good. 
But even it is losing concert status, and is fast becoming a mere 
brass-band fixture. 

Composing Semiramide silenced Rossini for more than two years, 
and the rest of Europe's professional operatic composers breathed a 
sigh of relief. He was by all odds the most talked-of musician in 
the world,* and was besieged by bids for his and, tactfully, 
Signora Rossini's services. He accepted one from the King's 
Theater in London, probably intending to settle permanently in 
England, On his way, however, he saw Paris, and glimpsed some- 
thing better. The charm of Parisian life and the possibility of be- 
coming the arbiter of French music were uppermost in his mind 

* In 1823, Rossini could boast that twenty-three of his operas were running in 
various parts of the world. The Sultan of Turkey instructed his brass band to play 
selections from them, and in far-off, chaotic Mexico one of them was given at Vera 
Cruz. They were the favorite music of Italy, Russia, Portugal, Spain, and South 


during the extremely uncomfortable Channel crossing and on his 
arrival in London it was a hellishly cold December day, and he 
had caught a chill. During the season he made 175,000 francs, 
was repeatedly honored by George IV, and was lavishly enter- 
tained by everyone that mattered. The King made a special trip 
up from Brighton to hear his fat friend sing at the Duke of Well- 
ington's house. Some of the more serious Londoners were an- 
noyed at this expensive dawdling: though his operas were running 
(he even sometimes deigned to conduct), and he pretended to be 
writing a new opera for them (which never materialized) , as far 
as they could see he had become just another Italian singer. The 
only new work he actually gave London was a vocal octet called 
The Plaint of the Abuses on the Death of Lord Byron. While he was 
getting rich on the English, and philosophically doing nothing 
about the shambles which was English music in the year 1824, 
he was negotiating with the French ambassador to return to Paris 
and assume direction of the Theatre Italien. 

During Rossini's brief tenure of office at the Italien, he devoted 
most of his time to learning French and studying Parisian taste in 
music. He showed Paris how his own music should be performed, 
successfully introducing several operas not heard there before, and 
winning his audience over to others they had disliked under earlier 
conductors. He launched Meyerbeer on his career as the eventual 
idol of Paris by producing the best of that parvenu's Rossinian 
operas in 1825. But as a composer he himself seems to have been in 
a period of slothfulness. While at the Italien his sole new offering 
was a one-act opera-cantata II Viaggio a Reims which, more- 
over, was nothing but a pastiche of much old material, a few new 
numbers, and arrangements of seven national anthems. First pro- 
duced on June 19, 1825, # Viaggio , which died after its third per- 
formance, celebrated Charles X's coronation progress to Rheims, 
and is notable for two departures from Rossini's usual tact: he set 
an event in French history to Italian words, and its single act lasted 
three hours. 

Not unnaturally, Rossini was criticized as a trifler, and was com- 
pared unfavorably with serious people like Spontini and Weber, 
who disdained pastiches. But in Paris, at least, he had reasons for 
idleness. He was ill and unnerved by the insecurity of his position, 
for his contract at the Italien was for but eighteen months. He was 


wheedled into something like his old activity only by a brevet from 
Charles X as premier compositeur du roi et inspecteur general du chant en 
France, a reward for his rehabilitating labors at the Italien. Digging 
down into his luggage, Rossini extracted the manuscript of 
Maometto II, a second-rate opera that had persistently failed. This 
he all but rewrote to the words of a new French libretto, and in- 
troduced it at the Opera on October 9, 1826, under the title of 
Le Siege de Corinthe. Three factors assured its success: the dramatic 
intensity of the music, a superb cast, and a French libretto il- 
lustrating an incident in the Greek struggle for independence from 
the Turks. As the Greek cause was very fashionable in Paris at 
the time, and Rossini was well aware that most of the enthusiasm 
at the premiere was inspired by the cause and not the music, he 
tactfully refrained from taking a bow. Soon, however, Le Siege 
established itself on its musical merits, and Rossini became a suc- 
cessful French composer. 

The exacting standards of his French confreres and audiences 
were salient in shaping the unusually solid construction of Le 
Siege, and may have been partly responsible for his delay in writing 
a large work for the French stage. He realized, no doubt, that he 
could no longer get by with his careless Italian formulas. For the 
first time he boldly abandoned his elaborate vocal ornamentation 
and superficial tricks for a larger architecture and a simpler 
melodic line. His next effort, a resetting of Mose in Egitto y which ii* 
its Italian form had already won favor in Paris, showed even more 
clearly that Rossini had been converted to careful workmanship. 
Here, with a libretto completely lacking in fad appeal, he tri- 
umphed more signally. Called simply Mo'ise, it opened at the 
Opera on March 26, 1827. ^ n effect partly opera, partly cantata, 
Mo'ise is yet a work of quite notable unity. Its choral writing is 
often magnificent, the culminating point being the prayer of the 
Jews for safe passage through the Red Sea. These choruses were its 
fortune in England when, because of the prudishness that forbade 
Biblical personages being depicted on the stage, Moise was adapted 
there as an oratorio. It put the final stamp of unqualified official 
and popular approval on Rossini. The venerable and austere 
Cherubini, from his throne at the Conservatoire, declared magis- 
terially that he was pleasantly surprised. And Balzac looked up 


from the composition of La Comedie humaine to pronounce Mo'ise "a 
tremendous poem in music." 

Rossini should have been supremely happy but he was not. 
During the final rehearsals of Mom, he heard that his mother had 
died. He was still tenderly devoted to her, and recovered slowly 
and painfully from the shock. He was lonely,, and now, desperately 
seeking some living tie with his mother, invited his father to come 
and live with him in Paris. From Isabella he asked no solace: a 
coldness had grown up between them, and for years she had been 
living at her villa near Bologna. His father's presence gradually 
produced the desired effect: Rossini roused himself from his stupor 
of grief, and admitted to himself that as the ruler of musical Paris 
he owed something to his subjects. He called in Eugene Scribe, 
the most famous of French librettists, and together they concocted 
a comic opera, Le Comte Ory. No new work had been heard from 
Rossini's pen for seventeen months, and the first-night audience 
gave Le Comte an ovation on August 20, 1828. It betrays the com- 
poser's growing Frenchification: it is elegant rather than brilliant, 
graceful rather than brisk. It contains much delightful, and some 
really fine, music, notably the orchestral prelude to the second act, 
which is decidedly Beethovian in quality. But the Comte lacks The 
Barber's peculiar magic. It has never been popular outside France, 
and today if it is ever revived elsewhere (which seems unlikely), it 
will be as a mere historical curiosity an ancestor of the still- 
popular light operas of Offenbach. 

Having now successfully produced three French operas of his 
own, and fortified with a bank account that allowed him to indulge 
any whim, Rossini decided that he wanted to devote all his 
energies to the writing of opera. He petitioned Charles X for the 
cancellation of his contract, and the granting of a new one along 
the following lines: he promised to compose five operas over a 
ten-year period, for each of which he was to receive fifteen thou- 
sand francs and a benefit performance; upon the expiration, laps- 
ing, or voiding of this contract he was to receive a life pension of 
six thousand francs per annum. With the King and his ministers 
mulling over these memoranda, Rossini retired to the palatial 
country seat of his friend, the banker Aguado, and began work on 
the first of these proposed operas. Fondly recalling how the fash- 
ionable interest in the rights of small nations had clinched the 


success of Le Siege de Corinthe, he selected Schiller's Wilhelm Tell 
for dissection by a trio of French librettists. They did a singularly 
ugly piece of work, excelling in vast deserts of inactivity and flat,, 
unrealized characterization. To this listless fabrication Rossini 
blithely attached some of his most expressive, and certainly his 
most somber, music. This time he firmly disdained to use any old 
material. He labored over his script for at least six months, and 
then put it into rehearsal at the Opera. A series of delays, more or 
less accurately explained in the press, raised anticipation to fever 
pitch. The truth was that Rossini was himself postponing the 
premiere: he was using William Tell as a lever to force the signing 
of the contract, and even threatened to withdraw the work unless 
he had his way. Charles X acceded in April, 1829, an d so, on 
August 3, Paris heard Rossini's monstrous five-acter for the first 

From the very beginning, the response to William Tell must have 
been unique in Rossini's experience: the people listened with 
cold respect; the critics raved. And such, with minor exceptions, 
has been its history ever since. In its original form it was insup- 
portable to the audience, and after a few performances drastic 
cuts were made. One by one the acts were sheared off, until finally 
only Act II was given. This process of erosion got under Rossini's 
skin. Years later, he met the director of the Opera on the street. 
"We're giving the second act of Tell tonight," the director said 
brightly. "What! the whole act?" Rossini replied. The bitterness 
of this jest was too keen to be relieved by the praises of Bellini, 
Mendelssohn, Wagner, Verdi, and even Berlioz, bitterest of anti- 

The low level of expressiveness in the operas of the time accounts 
for much of the critical enthusiasm. Tell has solid virtues earnest- 
ness, some psychological verisimilitude, a certain understanding of 
the architecture of large musical forms. Wagner told Rossini 
that in it he had previsioned "accidentally," Wagner explained 
some Wagnerian theories of music drama. Whether or not Tell is 
indeed a spiritual ancestor of Der Ring des Nibelungen, it certainly 
foreshadows Wagner's symphonic conception of opera. When he 
was composing Tell, Rossini was profoundly influenced by the 
music of Beethoven. Unfortunately, this led him to make many of 
the same mistakes his idol had made in Fidelio. There are passages 


in Tell that sound like excerpts from a symphony with an irrele- 
vant vocal obbHgato tacked on. And yet the score is not without 
moments of singular beauty. The second act, besides being the 
least offensive in the libretto, contains the largest proportion of 
these, and Rossini always felt sure that it would survive, along 
with the third act of Otello and The Barber of Seville in its entirety. 
Telly even cut down to three acts, is too unwieldy for modern taste, 
but there is no reason why a concert condensation made up of 
Act II, with a few other such expressive numbers as Tell's prayer 
from Act III and Arnold's lovely air from Act IV, "Asile keredi- 
taire" would not be perennially fresh and popular. Now, however, 
with performances of Tell so few and far between, what we have to 
judge it by is the overture, a work of great charm and attractive- 
ness. It is beyond question the most popular music Rossini ever 
composed. It shows that Beethoven could really benefit him when 
taken lightly. 

Rossini was thirty-seven years old. At the height of his creative 
powers, and in adequate, if not hearty, health, he had thirty-nine 
more years to live. The acknowledged autocrat of opera, he now 
went into self-imposed retirement, and never again wrote for the 
operatic stage. Except for inconsequential chirpings, he broke his 
silence only twice, with the Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe 
solennelle, two religious works in his early buffa style. 

There is no simple, adequate explanation for this strangest of 
all abdications. Our natural impulse is to take Rossini's own words 
about the matter. The trouble is that he told different things to 
different people on the few occasions when he deigned to explain, 
and thus contrived effectually to throw dust in the eyes of pos- 
terity a sport at which he was singularly adept. Sometimes he 
seems shamelessly to have pulled his questioner's leg, as when 
he said that he would have gone on writing if he had had a son. 
He told Wagner that composing forty operas in twenty years had 
exhausted him^ and besides, there were no singers capable of per- 
forming even them. Again, he explained that he quit when melo- 
dies no longer sought him, and he had to seek them which sounds 
absurd in view of the fertile melodiousness of the Stabat Mater. So 
we are forced to piece together our own reasons for Rossini's 
retirement. What superficially started it was the Revolution of 
1830, which overthrew Charles X, seemingly invalidated Rossini's 


contract, and placed on the throne Louis-Philippe, who, the com- 
poser complained, cared only for the operas of Gretry.* His agita- 
tion over the (to him) black political situation was increased by his 
realization that he might have to share his throne with Meyerbeer, 
whose star was then rapidly rising in the musical firmament. 
Rossini would not compete, or what seems more likely he could 

For shortly after the production of William Tell, Rossini's neu- 
rosis caught up with him: it had revealed itself shyly as early as 
1816, after the cold reception of The Barber of Seville; political 
disturbances and musical rivalry brought it to a head, and he 
became more and more touchy, increasingly hysterical. In 1836 he 
first boarded a train, collapsed with fright during the brief ride 
from Antwerp to Brussels, and was carried from the coach in a 
faint. By 1848 he was practically bedridden, sometimes on the 
verge of insanity, and so he stayed for eight years. Some attempt 
has been made to suggest that his neurasthenia and physical de- 
pression had a venereal origin, but advanced veneriens do not rise 
from their beds, at the age of sixty-four, to spend the last twelve 
years of their lives making dignified carnival. Which is exactly 
what Rossini did. 

In 1832, Rossini met Olympe Pelissier, a fascinating French 
courtesan, and began the Stabat Mater by far the most important 
events of the last thirty-six years of his life. Olympe had come to 
him with unimpeachable references, having been the mistress of a 
French peer, an Anglo-American magnate, and the painter 
Vernet. Soon she was indispensable to him, and in 1847, two years 
after Isabella had died with Rossini's name on her lips, they were 
married. For twenty-one years Olyrnpe was Rossini's faithful and 
much-appreciated wife, and their domestic bliss was so unclouded 
as to be positively uninteresting to read about. 

The story of the composition of the Stabat Mater leads one to be- 
lieve that with the right kind of wheedling Rossini might have 
continued to write operas. In 1831 he visited Madrid as Aguado's 
guest, and was requested by one of his host's clerical friends to 
compose a Stabat Mater. He was so indebted to the banker that he 

* He was in good company. Henry Adams tells how the sixth president, who was 
devoted to Gretry's music, used, after he failed of re-election, to go about muttering 
"0, Richard! o mon roy! Vunivers fabandonne" from the great baritone aria in Richard 
Coeur-de-lion. But then, John Qiuncy Adams was always an eccentric. 


could not refuse. Accordingly, as soon as he returned to Paris, he 
composed the first six sections; then, feeling indisposed, he asked 
Tadolini, conductor at the Theatre Italien, to complete the task. 
The manuscript was thereupon turned over to the Spanish priest 
on the understanding that it would never leave his hands. But the 
priest died, and his heirs sold the Rossini-Tadolini script to a 
French publisher, who informed Rossini of his intention to market 
and produce it. The composer was furious, and at once sold all 
rights to the work to his own publisher for six thousand francs. 
Meanwhile, he began to replace Tadolini's efforts with his own, 
and finally, on January 7, 1842, Paris heard another Rossini 
premiere, after almost thirteen years of silence. The soloists included 
the incomparable Giulia Grisi, the romantic Mario, and Tam- 
burini, the greatest bass-baritone of the period. Paris again bowed 
to the old wizard: Heine pronounced Rossini's liturgical style 
superior to Mendelssohn's, and one of the critics reached back to 
the first performance of Haydn's Creation for a comparison. All 
contemporary sources except one indicate that Paris went wild 
over the Stabat Mater: three days after the premiere, Mme d'Agoult 
wrote to Liszt that it was not much of a success. 

The Stabat Mater is a fine theatrical composition which is by no 
means out of place when performed in a gay baroque church. Sir 
W. H. Hadow (who was no prude) flatly called it "immoral," but 
so, too, by Protestant standards are some of the Masses of Haydn 
and Mozart. So, too, pre-eminently is Pergolesi's great Stabat, 
which Rossini admired so inordinately that he hesitated to court 
comparison with it by writing one himself. It is partly a matter of 
geography, partly a matter of time. We have come to recognize a 
standard of expressiveness which may be interpreted as unimagina- 
tively as the letter that killeth, but which has the virtue of demand- 
ing at least a minimum relationship between words and music. By 
this standard Rossini's Stabat Mater is tasteless. It is best listened to 
as fragments of a serious opera, for as illustrations of the feelings 
of Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross it is ridiculous almost 
a travesty of the touching thirteenth-century poem on which it is 

Rossini was not on hand for the premiere of the Stabat Mater. After 
the Revolution of 1830, he loitered in Paris for six years, doing 
little except watch with troubled eyes the Meyerbeer comet sweep- 


ing the heavens. After February 29, 1836, the date of the first 
performance of Les Huguenots, and Rossini's forty-fourth birthday 
as well, the upstart's following equaled his own, and he had little 
wish to remain in Paris. Moreover, he had won a lawsuit: his con- 
tract with the deposed Charles X was adjudged valid for the rather 
silly reason that the King had signed it in person, and his pension 
of six thousand francs was reapproved. By October, 1836, Rossini 
was in Italy, and there he remained for almost twenty years. For 
the first twelve of these he lived chiefly in Bologna, taking an ac- 
tive part in local musical politics, and presiding like a benevolent 
despot over the Liceo Musicale, to which he made lavish grants. 
He might have vegetated there until his death if in 1848 some town 
radicals had not staged a demonstration against him, on the 
grounds that he was a bloated conservative. This so intimidated 
Rossini and Olympe, who were both ill at the time, that they fled 
to Florence the next day. Rossini soon took to his bed, and there 
for the next eight years, physically and mentally wretched, he re- 
mained. And then, another flight, this time from the Tuscan cli- 
mate and the bungling methods of Italian doctors. 

Rossini and Olympe drove into Paris on a May day in 1855. He 
was an apparently broken man, and for more than a year those 
who were eager to do him homage wondered whether he had re- 
turned to Paris only to die. In the summer of 1856, he was trans- 
ported somehow to Germany, to see whether taking the waters 
would ease his last days. His friends had gloomily witnessed his 
departure, and thought that was the last they would ever see of 
him. The next thing they knew he was back, and had opened a 
large apartment at 2, rue de la Chaussge d'Antin a memorable 
address in the history of Parisian society. For twelve years in the 
winter in town, in the summer at his suburban villa at Passy he 
settled down to the business of enjoying himself and making 
Olympe happy. His Saturday nights became a Paris institution, 
and to be seen there gave a cachet that attendance at the court of 
Napoleon the Little could not. The story of Rossini's life became 
that of musical and artistic Paris. Only the salon of the Princess 
Mathilde, with Taine and Sainte-Beuve as twin deities, compared 
with Saturday night at the Rossinis'. A list of his courtiers becomes 
plethoric: Wagner, Liszt, Verdi, Patti, Clara Schumann, Saint- 


Saens. . . . Properly to celebrate his own follies, the shameless old 
gentleman settled his wig on his bald pate, and composed a box of 
musical bonbons, mostly for piano solo, which he called Peches de 
vieillesse. One of them is Miscarriage of a Polish Mazurka, another A 
Hygienic Prelude for Morning Use., titles that call to mind the amusing 
nonsense of Erik Satie. Naturally, the Petite Messe solennelleyWritttn 
in the summer of 1863, is more dignified stuff. It lasts two hours, 
and has some ravishing moments, notably a touching duet for 
soprano and mezzo that would melt the heart of the stoniest 

In 1868, it being a leap year, Rossini was able to celebrate his 
seventy-sixth* birthday on February 29. It was his last. He was 
beginning to fail. On September 26 he gave his last Saturday 
soiree. In October he was dying of old age and a complication of 
ills catarrh, a weak heart, a painful fistula. The fistula was at- 
tacked vainly, septic poisoning set in, and hope was abandoned. 
He had been a lax communicant, and Pius IX (with all his own 
troubles) was so worried for the repose of Rossini's soul that he sent 
the papal nuncio to Passy to administer extreme unction. This 
annoyed and frightened Rossini, though he submitted. So, with 
accounts squared, he passed away on November 13, 1868 a 
Friday. Olympe fell across the body, sobbing hysterically, "Ros- 
sini, I shall always be worthy of you." 

Much has happened to tarnish the glory of Rossini's name since 
the day when Marietta Alboni and Adelina Patti lifted their 
voices at his funeral in the "Quis est homo" from the Stabat Mater. 
What Chorley said as early as 1862 "II Tancredi is already old, 
without being ancient" now applies emphatically to almost all of 
Rossini's operas. Alone The Barber of Seville remains preternaturally 
young and supple, miraculously unwithered by the years. Bee- 
thoven hit the nail on the head when he advised Rossini to write 
"more Barbers" His failure to follow this advice led him eventually 
to found modern French grand opera and so we are occasionally 
treated to at least a three-act view of that wondrous historical 
curiosity, William Tell. But today opera means mainly Wagner 

* Purists, allowing for the fact that 1800 was not a leap year, will relish the final 
absurdity of Rossini's career dying more than three years before his nineteenth 


and Verdi, both of whom learned something from Rossini. Much 
wider might be Rossini's province if his taste had been surer, his 
intelligence more disciplined, his disregard of the intellect less 
profound. He would have composed less, and the quality of what 
he composed would have been higher. And, who knows? he 
might even have written a serious opera as good as The Barber of 

Chapter X 

Franz Peter Schubert 

(Vienna, January 31, lygy-November 19, 18283 Vienna) 

AFTER enjoying the excellent theater of Rossini's life, with its 
incomparable and surprising last act, it is shocking to turn to 
the sordid little playlet in which Franz Peter Schubert acted the 
pathetic stellar role. At first blush, Stendhal's savage epitome of 
man's fate "He lived, he suffered, he died" seems to fit Schu- 
bert perfectly. But unlike Rossini, who for all his success spent 
twenty years commiserating himself, Schubert apparently never 
even realized that he was suffering. In those rare moments when 
he was not composing, and had a chance to think things over, he 
sensed that life was hard. But by and large his life, which seems a 
tragedy to us, did not seem one to him. The fact that a richly en- 
dowed natural genius should have been a pauper, humiliating 
himself constantly to earn less than a living, is so unbearable that 
addicts of the peculiar sort of magic Schubert alone was able to 
weave, refusing to face the harsh reality of his life, have romanti- 
cized him into the hero of Blossom Time. But there is no evidence 
that Schubert himself ever felt his penury more acutely than when 
he was casting around vainly for the insignificant trifle he needed 
for a walking tour. Even his death at the age of thirty-one, pos- 
sibly before his powers had reached their full even his death, 
which to us seems so tragic, so wasteful, was robbed of its terror for 
him, for he had no premonition of it, and until the very end was 
living in the moment as he always had. 

Schubert had no thought but music. Furthermore, he had no 
time for anything else. The place of friends in Schubert's life has 
been much emphasized by biographers, and yet his attitude to 
them was affectionately wayward, a shade this side of perfunctory. 
As enthusiasts for his music, they impinged upon, but never en- 
tered, his private universe. And this private universe what was 
it? It was nothing less than a reservoir of the imagination fed from a 
thousand freshets, constantly welling over, constantly tapped, con- 
stantly renewed. Within, there was seldom room for anything ex- 
cept melody and the need to use it poetically. At this point, the 



contrast with Beethoven is instructive: no such freshets poured into 
the dark tarn of his imagination, and his notebooks prove that his 
store of the raw matter of music was, compared with Schubert's, 
meager. But in the tortured process of shaping his ideas, Bee- 
thoven's spacious intellect, focused savagely and indomitably on 
the material, was quickened by the ideal of perfection. Beethoven 
had his vast failures, but when he succeeded, the conscious creative 
labor had been gauged perfectly to the highest potency of the 
musical ideas. This sort of creative labor was foreign to Schubert, 
though not necessarily beyond his capabilities. He "whelmed" 
his own word his ideas down on paper, and then tossed the paper 
into a drawer. The pressure of new musical ideas left him no peace 
for the perfecting of those he had already noted down. 

It is no accident that this man, to whom melody came more 
easily than speech,, to whom, indeed, it was literally as natural as 
singing is to birds, should have excelled in the writing of songs. For 
a song, more than any other musical form, can be set down in one 
lyrical inspiration. Schubert looked at any poem, good, bad, or in- 
different, and instantly a melody came into his head. And nothing 
could stop a melody when it was on its way. Take, for example, the 
almost incredible story of the composition of Hark, Hark, the Lark! 
On a summer afternoon in 1826, Schubert was sitting in a noisy 
beer garden, and idly turning over the pages of a German transla- 
tion of Shakespeare. All of a sudden he exclaimed, "The loveliest 
melody has just come into my head ! If I only had some music paper 
with me! . . ." One of his friends drew a few staves on the back of a 
menu, and there and then Schubert wrote this perfect song. After a 
song was written and in seventeen years he wrote over six hun- 
dred lieder in just about this way it was to all intents and pur- 
poses done with. An occasional tidying up of purely mechanical de- 
tails, and that was all. Even when he produced several settings of 
the same poem, he was not trying to perfect the original setting. 
A new tune, and not necessarily an intrinsically better or more ap- 
propriate one, had come into his head. 

The fact that more than a tenth of his songs are set to poems by 
Goethe is apt to lead the unwary into believing that Schubert had 
a taste for only the best in poetry. Actually he was so indiscriminate 
in his choice of lyrics that he might almost have said with Rossini, 
"Give me a laundry list, and I will set it to music." Some of his 


best songs are set to doggerel. Ninety poets or versifiers are repre- 
sented in the collected edition of his songs, and of these a scant two 
dozen have achieved some measure of immortality in their own 
right. Schubert did not need good verse, nor is there much evi- 
dence that he recognized it when he saw it. The spineless plati- 
tudes of Rellstab's Standchen, which he selected in the last year of his 
life, served him just as effectively as Goethe's moving dramatic 
ballad, Der Erlkonig, which he discovered at the age of eighteen. 
What he needed was a mere peg on which to hang a melody. His 
adoring friends knew this, and were not above exploiting it with 
brutal good humor, locking him up in a room with any volume of 
verse that happened to be at hand. The number of songs he set 
down under these strange conditions was limited only by the 
length of his imprisonment. And as he himself was wont to say, 
"To complete one song is to begin another." 

Wilhelm Miiller, to whose verses Schubert wrote his two major 
song cycles, was a sentimentalist of small talent. Schubert merely 
happened on a copy of the Milllerlieder in 1823, and there is no evi- 
dence to show that he realized the twenty poems of his first cycle 
Die Schone Mullerin were drivel. Indeed, four years later, he set 
two dozen more of Miiller's lyrics in a cycle called Die Winterreise. 
Yet, in some respects, these cycles are among Schubert's most 
remarkable achievements, and though separate songs in them may 
be judged on their own merits, the effect of hearing the cycles in 
totality is cumulative, and distinctly heightens their impressive- 
ness. Another collection of fourteen songs was published post- 
humously under the title ofSchwanengesang, but it has no real unity. 
It includes such dramatic pieces as Der Atlas and Die Stadt, as well 
as the haunting Doppelganger, which has been called the finest of 
Schubert's songs. 

But most of Schubert's six hundred-odd lieder were written 
separately. Almost a quarter of them are still often sung. The 
Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music lists no fewer than 127 
separate songs, some of them in a baffling number of recordings of 
both the original and various arrangements and transcriptions. 
Stdndchen and Ave Maria, to cite the most flagrant examples of over- 
supply, have been recorded more than fifty times apiece, including 
a carillon version and one for the Hawaiian guitar. To millions of 
otherwise unmusical people, the very name of Schubert signifies 


song. The reasons are simple, at least as regards the most popular 
of his lieder: they run a comparatively small gamut of emotions in 
easily apprehensible terms; they sing of love, nature, religious de- 
votion, death; their melodies have a way of staying in the memory, 
and without being in the least catchy or vulgar, have an intimacy 
of appeal that one can match only in folk melody. 

In the Ave Maria, in which the Queen of Heaven descends from 
her pedestal, and becomes the sympathetic confidante of the poor 
peasant maiden, Schubert never once makes a misstep in a situa- 
tion so susceptible of vulgarization and mawkish overstatement. 
The musical means are amazingly simple: the long flowing melody 
ranges but an octave, and the accompaniment an insistent, 
repetitive figure depends for its magical effect on subtle har- 
monic shifts. The joyful celebration of Hark, Hark, the Lark!, the 
elegant precision of Who Is Sylvia? (an exquisite hybrid all around, 
being neither typical Schubert nor typical Shakespeare), the 
somber hopelessness of Am Meer, the serene peace of Du bist die 
RuK all testify to his sureness as a poet of the lyrical or contempla- 
tive. And Schubert could be a great storyteller. The Erlkonig is in 
effect a tiny opera; it has, at least, the best qualities of a magnifi- 
cent operatic scena, so well has it caught the spirit of Goethe's 
melodramatic ballad. It needs a thoughtful artist to interpret the 
Erlkonig, to differentiate the various personages of the story with- 
out caricaturing them. Ernestine Schumann-Heink made it one of 
the great dramatic songs of the world. 

For fathering the lied, Schubert was perfectly endowed, and 
the ancestral, tentative efforts of Mozart and Beethoven do not 
detract from, but rather emphasize, the bold and effortless origi- 
nality of his creation. The great lieder composers Schumann, 
Robert Franz, Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss have all 
been deeply influenced by his songs, and even in evolving the 
idiosyncrasies of their own mastery have by no means rejected all 
Schubertian touches. No one has ever denied that Schubert 
breathed life into the song. But the matchless natural gifts that 
were adequate for that act of creation were not in themselves 
enough to deal with the less tractable elements of the larger 
musical forms. He needed also an intellectual grasp of complex 
materials, a willingness to wrestle with the knotty problems arising 
from them, and a thorough training in musical theory. In varying 


degrees, he lacked these requisites, and so was grounded incon- 
tinently on his most daring and promising flights. What a thorough 
training would have given him can only be guessed at, particu- 
larly since there are reasons for suspecting that he would not have 
been amenable to such a discipline. It might have been a sturdier 
understanding of big musical ideas and a taste for wringing the most 
from them. 

What is certain is that Schubert, for various reasons, did not 
have that training. Born in 1797 in Vienna, then the musical 
capital of Europe, he was the son of a desperately poor school- 
master. At the age of seven, after he had picked out a few tunes on 
the piano without instruction, his father and his brother Ignaz, 
amateurs both, began respectively to teach him the ABC's of the 
violin and piano. His aptitude and eagerness soon outstripped 
their lessons, and he was turned over to the Kapellmeister of the 
parish church, who trained his piping voice, but largely let the 
boy's musical education run itself. In 1808, he became a chorister 
in the court chapel, and was accepted as a student at the training 
school attached to it. Although Salieri, its director, had raised 
the school's prestige, it actually provided only the sketchiest 
musical education. Schubert left it with a certain grasp of orches- 
tral playing and directing, and some familiarity with the music of 
Haydn and Mozart, and possibly that of Beethoven. Except for a 
few private consultations with Salieri, who warned him not to set 
the verses of Goethe and Schiller, and personally excised any 
stray echoes of Haydn and Mozart he detected in the boy's com- 
positions, this ends the tale of Franz Peter Schubert's musical 
education. Just before his death in 1828 he was planning to begin 
lessons in counterpoint. 

Schubert's years at the chapel school failed to give him a solid 
foundation in theory, but it was there that he found the nucleus 
of that circle of adoring friends who not only gained for his music 
what currency it had during his lifetime, but also were largely 
responsible for his being able to keep body and soul together as 
long as he did. It was by the happiest chance that, wretched urchin 
though he was shy, awkward, shabbily dressed, almost ugly- 
he drew to himself the sympathetic regard of a few of the older 
boys, chief among whom was Josef von Spaun. When he was about 
twelve or thirteen, Schubert first felt the urge to compose, and at 


this critical time Von Spaun generously pressed upon him the 
music paper he could not afford to buy. Among his prentice pieces 
were several string quartets, which he composed for performance 
by a little chamber group consisting of his father, two of his 
brothers, and himself. They met regularly Sundays and holidays. 
Such gatherings delighted the elder Schubert, who did not even 
mind being brought to book by Franz for his technical lapses. For 
some time, the old schoolmaster regarded his son's talent as 
pleasant and harmless, but when it began to interfere with the 
boy's studies, and he began to fear that Franz was not the stuff of 
which schoolmasters are made, he blew up. Franz refused to 
abandon his ruling passion, and his father forbade him the house. 
In 1812, however, Frau Schubert died, and in the course of the 
family mourning there was a good deal of weeping on shoulders, 
and the erring son was quite naturally forgiven without promises 
on either side. Schubert seems to have been only mildly fond of his 
mother, and when his father remarried, he transferred his affection 
easily to his stepmother. 

In 1813, Schubert's voice broke, and like Haydn, sixty-four 
years earlier, he became useless to the choir. While Haydn had 
been turned brutally into the streets of Vienna, Schubert had two 
courses open to him: to accept a foundation scholarship or to take a 
teaching job in his father's school. As the former involved going 
on with studies that bored this bespectacled, studious-looking, 
but thoroughly unintellectual youth, he chose to teach. He must 
have known the drudgery that awaited him, but schoolteachers 
were exempt from military service, he would not have to study 
any more, and he would have plenty of leisure for composition. 
For three years he served as his father's assistant, and be it said 
that this period, when he doubtless was getting three square meals 
a day as well as a certain stipend, was the most miserable of his 
life. Against all his natural instincts, he went about his petty daily 
tasks with a stolid persistence, and only rarely gave vent to the 
rage that was consuming him. He hated the school and everything 
about it the damp urchins, the ill-smelling classroom, the mad- 
dening rote of elementary teaching. 

Deficient Schubert may have been in intellect, but certainly not 
in courage and persistence. In this most unpromising milieu, 
from 1813 to 1 8 1 6, he attempted almost every form of composition, 


setting down string quartets, five symphonies, sonatas for piano 
and violin, Masses and other church music, eight stage works of 
varying lengths and intentions (but all dismal), and more than 
two hundred and fifty songs. Much of this output is unimportant 
judged by the standards of anyone not writing an exhaustive 
treatise on the works of Schubert. But many of the songs are fresh 
and perfectly realized, and several are masterpieces: a boy of 
seventeen composed Gretchen am Spinnrade^ a boy of eighteen Der 
Erlkonig. The miracle of Schubert's creation of the lied becomes 
all the more miraculous when it is considered that though he went 
on to compose many other kinds of song, he never composed any 
finer than these, and for a very simple reason: these are perfect. 
Among the other work is one of the most fragrant and guileless 
tributes ever paid by a young composer to his great predecessors 
the Fifth Symphony, in B flat major. Only a very sophisticated 
pair of ears, hearing it for the first time, could distinguish it from 
Mozart when he is most like Haydn. There is nothing in it that 
would have surprised Mozart: it is thoroughly classical in struc- 
ture, and for the most part in feeling. Its originality just enough 
to give piquancy is the songlike quality of some of the themes and 
the romantic tints in the andante. As a passing phase, ancestor 
worship that produces symphonies like Schubert's B flat major is 
all right. 

After three years' teaching in his father's school, Schubert ap- 
plied for the post of musical director at Laibach, a provincial 
capital about two hundred and fifty miles from Vienna. He was 
refused, and as there seemed no relief imminent, he took the revo- 
lutionary step of quitting, and so began a Bohemian, happy-go- 
lucky kind of life that, except for two brief attempts at conven- 
tionality, he never abandoned. First to take the innocent under his 
wing was the gay and temperamental Franz von Schober, an 
Austro-Swedish law student of good family. Von Schober not only 
provided lodgings and food for Schubert, but also began to show 
him the town. He had an apt pupil in the short, stocky youth, and 
within a few years Schubert was seeing more of the town than was 
good for him. Of much more moment was Von Schober's bringing 
into the jealously exclusive clique of young artists who called them- 
selves Schubertians the eminent baritone, Johann Michael Vogl, 
who was more than a generation older than the rest of them. It 


was this strong-willed and widely admired artist, known for the 
severity of Ms taste, who brought Schubert's songs their first fame, 
introducing them, on every possible occasion, at the most fashion- 
able parties in Vienna. Nor was this all: lie persuaded the Karnt- 
nerthortheater to risk ordering an opera from Schubert.* t 

Yogi's wirepulling at the Karntnerthor was typical of the solici- 
tude of the Schubertians for the pygmy god around whom they 
revolved. They were, in their way, as remarkable as Beethoven's 
patrons. Without an Archduke Rudolf or rich socialites like the 
Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky, the Schubertians made up in 
energy and devotion what they lacked in prestige and wealth. The 
affluent and courted Vogl was in every way an exception among- 
them. The others were young men trying to get along in the world 
even the dilettante Von Schober toyed with various careers. 
During his short life Schubert lodged with various of them, and 
somehow, some way, they saw to it that he was usually fed and 
usually supplied with a piano, music paper, and plenty of verses 
by themselves or better poets. With them, the shy and awkward 
composer let himself go, and rather fancied himself strolling 
through the streets of Vienna at the head of these devoted hench- 
men, whom he treated with a kind of rough affection. 

Most of the Schubertians are now mere names, even the once 
famous Moritz von Schwind, who painted a Schubertiade, one of the 
get-togethers at which a few guests were permitted to share with 
the Schubertians the pleasure of hearing some new works by their 
idol. There was Beethoven's friend Anselm Hiittenbrenner, and 
his brother Josef, who for a time literally waited on Schubert hand 
and foot. There was Johann Mayrhofer, a poetaster of antique 
cast whose immortality is secure only because Schubert made 
songs of forty-seven of his melancholy verses. There was Von 
Spaun, Schubert's first benefactor and lifelong friend, and finally 
the courtly Eduard von Bauernfeld, who came late into the circle. 
Of all these, Schubert seems to have cared most for the carefree 
and sparkling Von Schober and the gloomy and neurotic Mayr- 
hofer, who ended his unhappy life by jumping out of a window for 
the extremely surrealist reason that he was afraid of getting 
cholera. Becoming a Schubertian was something of an honor, and 

* This opera, Die %willingsbruder } was duly performed for six nights, and then, like 
the rest of Schubert's listless stage pieces, fell into deserved desuetude. 


rather more of a task, for not only did the initiates guard the circle 
jealously, but Schubert himself was punctilious about the qualifica- 
tions of would-be joiners. "What can he do?" was his invariable 
question when a new name was mentioned. 

In the summer of 1818, Schubert gave up his freedom for a brief 
period of bond servitude as music teacher at Zelesz, a Hungarian 
seat of Count Janos Esterhazy. At first, the novelty of life in a 
well-ordered and lavishly appointed establishment appealed to 
him, and he was enraptured by the beauty of the countryside. Un- 
happily, he was treated like a servant, ate apart from the family 
with the maids and scullions, and had to associate with people 
whose musical standards were low. Shortly he was sending self- 
commiserating notes to the Schubertians, and picturing himself as 
an exile from the Eden that was Vienna. But even when Zelesz was 
becoming really hateful, life had compensations: ". . . the cham- 
bermaid very pretty, and often in my company . . ." 

When Schubert returned to Vienna, his only prospect of earn- 
ing a few coppers was that of giving lessons to the Esterhazys, who 
lived in the city during the winter. His father, who had always 
regarded Franz' Bohemianism as a prolonged vacation, now 
thought it high .time for him to return to schoolteaching. When 
Schubert flatly refused, they quarreled violently, and for three 
years were not on speaking terms. Franz' stepmother, with great 
common sense, refused to recognize this silly business, and when- 
ever he was really in desperate straits, reached down into her 
money stocking to help him out. Meanwhile he skirted the abyss 
of pauperism with his friends clutching at his coattails. Again he 
lived wherever he could work and sleep; again the manuscripts 
piled up; again his little affairs were in a chaos, to which Anselm 
Hiittenbrenner vainly tried to impart some order. There were 
signs, however, that the Schubertians might not have him long as 
their private property. On February 28, 1819, on the program of a 
public concert, there was, for the first time, a Schubert song the 
plaintive Schafers Klagelied, which received a benevolent pat on the 
back from the formidable Allgemeine musikalische ^eitung of Leipzig. 
Vogl, too, continued his yeoman work, and that summer went on a 
walking tour through Upper Austria with Schubert. They made 
their headquarters at the old rococo town of Steyr, where they 
were entertained by a local musical enthusiast who suggested that 


Schubert use the theme of Die Forelle that vivacious apostrophe 
to a flashing brook trout which is still a favorite Schubert lied in a 
chamber work. In a twinkling, Schubert sat down, and wrote out 
the four string parts of a piano quintet. Then, without making a 
complete score, he had it performed for his host, himself playing 
the piano part, which he had not yet had time to write down. 

This was the incomparable Piano Quintet in A major. The 
earliest of Schubert's chamber works still played, it outranks in 
popularity even the piano quintets of Schumann and Brahms. 
The "Forellen" Quintet is a rarity of its kind, for people who insist 
loudly that they "can't stand" chamber music yield at once to its 
ingratiating charms. Although the gay and guileless melody of 
the song is used only in the theme and variations of the fourth 
movement, its darting rhythms pervade the entire five movements. 
It is impossible to conceive of more easily accessible music. It is 
picturesque in the exact sense of the word, and in many places 
the idea of rippling water and gleaming fish occurs voluntarily 
to the mind. It is romantic music, too, and its moments of poign- 
ancy are something absolutely new in music, so intimate and 
personal are they. It is, of course, the music of youth. These quali- 
ties rather than any masterly design give it a kind of unity, and 
tend to conceal the diffuseness from which the "Forellen" like al- 
most every other extended work of Schubert's, suffers. 

The "Forellen" Quintet is easily the best known of Schubert's 
numerous chamber works, and few of the others can be mentioned 
alongside it. These few, except for a lovely fragment the Quarlett- 
satz, in C minor belong to the last years of his life. Two piano 
trios, lovely in every particular, emphasize how effective the 
piano was in helping Schubert successfully to overcome miscalcula- 
tions in design and instrumentation that often baffled him when 
composing for strings alone. The last three of his fourteen string 
quartets are quite likely to survive as delightful and easily under- 
stood examples of a genre that is still considered somewhat esoteric. 
Possibly the reason they are so readily got at is that Schubert 
either misunderstood or never gave a thought to the problems of 
design and balance involved in writing for four strings. His quartets 
are really more of his songs, with two violins, viola, and cello sub- 
stituted for voice and piano. He was haunted by song in and out of 
season, and had the greatest difficulty in relinquishing the song 


quality and coming to grips with the special demands of instru- 
mental media. Only the captious can stand out against the sheer 
melodic beauty of the A minor Quartet or the more somber, more 
reflective one in D minor, part of which is based on his own song, 
Tod und das Madchen. The trouble with these beautiful collections of 
melody is that they are not string-quartetistic, as, for example, 
those of Mozart and Beethoven pre-eminently are. The same lack 
of insight into the personality of his medium, and the same failure 
to exploit its potentialities to the full, ,mar even the fine String 
Quintet in G major, which shows, however, that in the year of his 
death Schubert was beginning seriously to tackle the special 
problems of string ensembles. This is no happy, feckless effusion, 
no mere outpouring of song set down for five strings: it is richly 
various, thoughtful, bold in harmonic combinations, and shows 
that the instruments had some say in dictating texture and melody. 
In 1820^ two of Schubert's ill-fated operas reached the stage. 
The first was a failure, and just when the second was showing signs 
of mild success, the management of the Theater an der Wien, 
where it was running, went bankrupt Vienna was at the feet of 
Rossini, and both the Italian and his theatrical manager were 
minting money from his operas. It was in the vain hope of divert- 
ing some of this golden stream into his own pockets that Schubert, 
himself an ardent Rossinian, wrote operas. Nor was he easily dis- 
couraged: his pathetic attempts to interest the Viennese in his 
operatic talents extended over a ten-year period, and as late as 
1823 he was doggedly writing these often grandiose stage pieces 
one of them, Fierrabras, runs to a thousand pages of manuscript. 
When Weber was in Vienna in 1822, he discussed with Schubert, 
who so greatly admired Der Frdschutz that he went around hum- 
ming snatches of it, the possibility of mounting one of his operas. 
The following year, however, Schubert told Weber exactly what 
he thought ofEuryantke "not enough melody, Herr von Weber" 
and that avenue was closed. Apparently the absurdities of Helmine 
von Chezy's libretto for Ewyantke did not feaze Schubert, for that 
same year he agreed to furnish an overture and incidental music 
for another of her high-flown plays Rosamunde, Furstin von Cypern^ 
which made its debut at the Theater an der Wien on December 20, 
1823. It ran two nights, and was discontinued forever. Much of the 
music is delicious, and the piquant G major ballet, a sort of cousin- 


german to the equally famous F minor Moment musical, trips along 
with inimitable delicacy.* 

Schubert made little or no money from the stage., and while he 
toiled for it, carelessly threw away a small fortune. On March 7, 
1821, at a charity concert at the Karntnerthortheater sponsored 
by Ignaz Sonnleithner, a noted musical patron, Der Erlkbnig was 
sung in public for the first time. Yogi's superinterpretation had to 
be repeated, and thereupon Leopold Sonnleithner, Ignaz' son, be- 
lieving that the song could be published with profit for Schubert, 
approached several music publishers with the idea. He was turned 
down, and accordingly induced three of his friends to help him 
underwrite a private edition of one hundred copies. They were put 
on display at a musical soiree, and by the end of the evening were 
all sold. During the course of the year, six more folios containing 
nineteen songs were issued by this private publishing group. Out 
of the profits not only were Schubert's debts paid, but he was also 
presented with a considerable sum of money. Had he held on to 
the copyright, he might have had a comfortable income for life. 
But he was without a trace of business acumen, and in 1823 
seemingly because he no longer wished to be bothered with peri- 
odic settlings of account with Anton Diabelli, who had engraved 
and printed the seven folios he sold the plates and copyrights to 
the publisher for the equivalent of $350. He had thoughtlessly 
thrown away the best chance he ever had to earn a decent liveli- 

As some palliation for this act of sheer stupidity, it can be urged 
that when Schubert wrote away his rights in February, 1823, he 
was desperate. During the preceding year he had begun to ail, and 
by New Year's the illness declared itself so violently that he was 
taken to a hospital. He was suffering from syphilis, evidently in an 
advanced stage, for in a brief time he lost much of his hair, and 
had to wear a wig. He was thereafter from time to time under the 
care of venereal specialists. As long as he pursued the proper treat- 
ment, he seemed well enough, but the careless fellow was quite as 
incapable of adhering to a strict health regimen as he was of ap- 
plying himself to a stiff problem in the esthetics of composition. 
He would dissipate, overdrink, neglect his medicine, and the dis- 

* The Rosamunde music, long forgotten, was unearthed in Vienna in 1867 by Sir 
Arthur Sullivan and Sir George Grove. 


ease would prostrate him. Eventually his hitherto sunny disposi- 
tion succumbed to the strain: he had moods of irritability, of 
moroseness and gloom, alternating with outbursts of bravado. Occa- 
sionally he vented his despair in his music, so much so indeed that 
a Vienna musical organization wrote him a polite note, begging 
him to make his compositions less gloomy. 

Schubert had a right to be gloomy. With the autumn of 1822, 
bad luck came to hound him: his health was on the downgrade, 
the managers consistently refused to stage his operas, and the Ge- 
seilschaft der Musikfreunde blackballed him for membership. Yet 
it was about this time that he was offered the post of organist at 
the imperial chapel, and refused it for no more apparent reason 
than that he did not want to tie himself down in any way. His 
election as honorary member of the musical societies of Graz and 
Linz was some compensation for the slight from Vienna. It is not 
known how he showed his appreciation to Linz, but to Graz he 
decided to present a symphony. He set to work in October, 1822, 
wrote two movements, sketched a third and fourth, orchestrated 
nine bars of the third movement a scherzo and then suddenly 
tired of the whole thing and sent it to Graz. There it eventually 
passed into the hands of Anselm Hiittenbrenner, who tucked it 
away in his desk for forty-three years. Hiittenbrenner was an an- 
cient when Johann Franz von Herbeck, the conductor of the Vi- 
enna Geseilschaft concerts, looked him up in Graz in 1865, hinting 
that he would like to present a new work by Schubert. "I have 
many of his manuscripts," was Hiittenbrenner's reply, which, in 
view of the fact that the whereabouts of many Schubert works is 
still unknown, may be deemed significant. Hiittenbrenner handed 
Von Herbeck the manuscript of the 1822 symphony, and it was 
first performed on December 17, 1865, at a Geseilschaft concert. 

The c 'Unfinished" Symphony, thus happily unearthed, is the 
noblest fragment in music. It is certainly the most popular of 
Schubert's orchestral works. Only six years had elapsed since the 
B flat Symphony, that beautiful and perfectly behaved bow to the 
past, and in the interval he had composed a transitional symphony 
of no great distinction. The "Unfinished," actually Schubert's sev- 
enth, shows a development of his own characteristic symphonic 
idiom that is as baffling to uncritical Schubert devotees as to text- 
book critics. While the Fifth Symphony was but a classical re- 


creation, the "Unfinished" is undilute Schubert romantic music 
from beginning to end. The first movement opens gloomily and 
agitatedly (a sort of spiritual pacing the floor), and then moves by 
an inspired coup de theatre into one of his most opulent and poignant 
melodies.* It is possibly the most famous single movement in sym- 
phonic literature, for reasons by no means disgraceful to the popu- 
lar taste: no amount of hackneying has been able to destroy its 
fresh and wistful charm. The second movement is not so indispu- 
tably eternal a happy inspiration, yes, but wanting the breath- 
taking white magic of the first. Critics have stood on their heads 
trying to prove that these two movements in themselves constitute 
a musical whole, but without derogation to what Schubert found 
enthusiasm to compose, it can be stated dogmatically that they do 
no such thing. They are as clearly part of a larger design as the 
choir of Beauvais is part of a great cathedral church that was never 
built. The "Unfinished" Symphony is indeed the noblest fragment 
in music. 

After the final wrecking of his operatic career, Schubert went 
again, in May, 1824, to Sta 7 with th- e Esterhazys at Zelesz. Here he 
seems to have occupied the same servile position he had six years 
before. This did not prevent him, legend has it, from raising his 
eyes to a daughter of the house, the seventeen-year-old Countess 
Karolin. Never has a larger bubble been blown from a smaller 
pipe, for the story that Schubert was deeply enamored of this high- 
born adolescent rests flimsily on two statements, only one of which 
can be authenticated. It is said that the Countess once asked him 
why he had never dedicated anything to her, and he replied, 
"Why, because everything is dedicated to you." Certain it is that 
he wrote to Moritz von Schwind: "In spite of the attraction of a 
certain star, I am longing most terribly for Vienna." The first re- 
mark, if it was ever made, is a piece of stereotyped gallantry; the 
expression in the letter is hardly that of a lovelorn man. In the 
meager tale of Schubert's loves, there is far more likelihood that 
he was deeply attached to Therese Grob ? who as little more than a 
child had sung in one of his early Masses. He continued to walk 
out with her for some years, but in 1820 she married a rich middle- 

* By torturing the rhythm of this melody into waltz time, and setting it to moronic 
words, the perpetrators of Blossom Time evolved one of the great smash-hit ballads of 
all time. 


aged baker, presumably after realizing that Schubert would never 
be able to support her. He himself once remarked that he would 
have married Therese if his finances had permitted. After 1822, 
when his disease manifested itself, Schubert never again spoke of 
marrying. There is no evidence that being denied the joys of do- 
mesticity ever bothered him very much: here, as in his relations 
with his friends, he was too absorbed in music to have any strong 
desire to divide his allegiance. 

The year 1825 was > after all the troubles of the past few years, 
one of singular happiness for Schubert. His health was much im- 
proved, he managed to sell some of his songs for a fair price 
Artaria paid him the equivalent of $100 for his settings of Walter 
Scott, including the famous Ave Maria* and in the summer he 
again tramped through Upper Austria and the Tirol with Vogl. 
Sir George Grove, the music lexicographer, firmly believed that 
while at Gastein Schubert completed a "Grand Symphony" in C 
major. If he did, it is lost. But among the music he certainly com- 
posed on this trip was the Piano Sonata in A minor (Opus 42). 

Schubert's piano music is a microcosm of his virtues and vices 
as a composer. The larger works the two fantasias and the sona- 
tas are much less often heard than the smaller ones, and not 
merely because they offer more technical problems. They are far 
less successful. In the sonatas, Schubert stuck manfully to classical 
form, adorned it with lovely melodies, and just when a Mozart or 
a Beethoven would have been most absorbed in the possibilities of 
development and recapitulation, succumbed to boredom. His re- 
grettable procedure was to lengthen the movement without adding 
anything; for instance, he seems often to have conceived of re- 
capitulation as nothing but slavish repetition in another key. Such 
maundering is ruinous to the design, and no amount of inspired 
melody can triumph over it. Of his more than twenty sonatas, not 
one lacks moments of poignant lyricism and not one lacks desert 
wastes. Of special loveliness are one in A major (Opus 120) and 
one in A minor, both belonging to 1825; on a m re majestic scale 
are the three so-called <e Grand Sonatas," all written in the year of 
Schubert's death, more intellectual in their contours, richer in tex- 
ture, and altogether more profound in material. They, too, have 
their moments of high enchantment: the rondo of the A major and 

* The words are a German translation of Ellen's prayer from The Lady of the Lake. 


the andante sostenuto of the B flat major come immediately to 
mind. Of the two fantasias, the "Wanderer" is the more often dis- 
cussed and the less played: it is an interminable, dreary piece of 
music with a certain grandiosity that often enough degenerates 
into meaningless and apparently automatic shuttling. The G major 
Fantasia, a far superior piece, has a minimum of padding and 
many exquisite pages, including a minuet as lovely in its way as 
that from Don Giovanni. 

The smaller piano works impromptus, moments musicaux, waltzes, 
and other dances are another matter. Just as, despite the songs of 
his predecessors, Schubert may be said without exaggeration to 
have created the lied, so, too, he may be said to have created the 
kind of short piano piece on which Schumann, Chopin, and Brahms 
lavished some of their loveliest inspirations. Freed from the bond- 
age of classical forms, Schubert abandoned himself completely to 
his melodies. These pieces are almost never too long, for their 
length was truly dictated by the requirements of the material. They 
are uncomplicated, transparent, easy to listen to, and a delight to 
play. Some of them are as lyric as the little pieces Mendelssohn 
called Lieder ohne Worte; others are pure dance, ancestors of the 
waltzes of Chopin and Brahrns; finally, certain of the impromptus 
have a dramatic character that Schubert did not often attain. The 
repertoire will never be too crowded for these small but perfect 
compositions, some of which are already locked enduringly in the 
hearts of mankind. 

Many of these delectable trifles were among the flood of compo- 
sitions that issued without stint from Schubert's pen during the 
otherwise almost completely uneventful last three years of his life. 
Two fine string quartets belong to 1826, during which, on a single 
day, he tossed off Hark, Hark, the Lark! and Wha is Sylvia? The great 
song cycle Die Winterreise came in 1827, t ^ e string quintet, the 
"Grand Sonatas," and the songs later collected as Schwanengesang 
in 1828. Schubert's finances were again all but nonexistent, and 
his health was bad. He had fallen once more into a careless way of 
living, drinking freely, keeping late hours, and neglecting his treat- 
ments, and so had frequent relapses. He tried halfheartedly to bet- 
ter his position, but in vain. The post ofvice-Hofkapellmeister slipped 
through his fingers: he was not a favorite at court. The conductor- 
ship of the Kamtnerthortheater, which was almost in tlte bag. 


went to another because Schubert refused to play local politics. 
And so on an increasingly depressing chronicle. Early in March,, 
1827, Anselm Hiittenbrenner showed the dying Beethoven a large 
number of Schubert's songs, which so filled him with generous ad- 
miration that he burst out excitedly: "Certainly Schubert has the 
divine spark!" At Beethoven's request, Schubert went twice to see 
him, the first time with Hiittenbrenner. Then it was that Beetho- 
ven is reputed to have said to them: "You, Anselm, have my mind, 
but Franz has my soul. 5 ' On Schubert's second visit, Beethoven 
was too weak to talk, and the motions he made were pathetically 
futile. Schubert was overcome with emotion, and rushed from the 
house. Three weeks later he was a torchbearer at Beethoven's 

The year 1828 began propitiously. Schubert's health was defi- 
nitely better, he sold a few compositions at a tithe of their value, 
and, besides, he seems to have been planning an unusually long- 
range, large-scale program of work. He began with a cantata along 
Handelian lines (he appears to have fallen heir to Beethoven's 
Handel scores, and to have been studying them), and in March, 
on the anniversary of Beethoven's death, gave his first and only 
public concert, the program being made up exclusively of his own 
works. He was so well received that it is a wonder he never tried 
the experiment again. With the proceeds rather more than $150 
he lived high for a while, and it is characteristic of his careless 
generosity that he went a second time to hear Paganini merely for 
the pleasure of treating a friend even poorer than himself. 

March, 1828, was doubly remarkable, for it was also then that 
Schubert began the composition of the C major Symphony, which 
many consider his masterpiece. It was written at breakneck speed, 
put into rehearsal by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, and then 
shelved as too long and too difficult. It lay among his brother 
Ferdinand's papers until 1838, when it was rescued by Robert 
Schumann, and handed over to Mendelssohn, who first performed 
it at Leipzig the same year. In rejecting the C major Symphony, 
the Gesellschaft was right in one respect: no amount of referring to 
it as "the symphony of heavenly length" can alter the fact that 
it is far too long. Yet there is ample evidence that Schubert, doubt- 
less because his friends constantly urged him to study Beethoven's 
methods of work, labored over this symphony. The 21 8-page man- 


uscript is by no means the miraculously fair copy he usually pro- 
vided: it is starred with erasures and penknife marks second and 
third thoughts, corrections. 

The C major Symphony is Schubert's masterpiece, but not a 
Schubertian masterpiece. It is a big, impressive work, often rest- 
less and impassioned, dark and tragic in its harmonies, and alto- 
gether planned on a vastness of scale that the impatient Schubert 
must have needed a new stamina to handle. It is orchestrated with 
unusual care and boldness, and shows an exquisite sensitivity to 
the color range of the instruments separately and in combination. 
Schubert aimed at new effects, and achieved them with ease and 
a minimum of miscalculation the "digression" for trombones 
pianissimo in the first movement is a peculiarly magical example. 
The main themes throughout, particularly the first subjects of the 
andante and the andante con moto, are the stuff of which great 
music can be made, utterly beautiful in themselves and susceptible 
of infinite development. But alas! it was again on the rock of de- 
velopment that Schubert foundered. After proving conclusively 
that he could write page after page of great symphonic music, he 
seems to have unfocused his attention on the extremely difficult 
business at hand, and to have lapsed into a vein of irrelevant gar- 
rulousness. Thus, the C major concludes on a maundering, incon- 
sequential note after a beginning as promising as any symphony 
ever had. 

As we have seen, the C major Symphony was but one great 
work in a year of great works. Poverty and adversity seemed to 
spur Schubert on. By the summer of 1828, he realized sadly that 
he would have to forgo his vacation in the country: "Money and 
weather are both against me," he wrote with bitter humor. In 
September, however, he was so run down that his physician in- 
sisted on more fresh air and exercise. Accordingly, he took a brief 
walking tour in the Viennese countryside, lived abstemiously, and 
felt a new access of animal spirits. Nevertheless, on his return home, 
he was at once stricken by his old complaint, this time accompa- 
nied by dire mental concomitants: he thought that he was being 
poisoned; he walked around for hours in a complete daze. Amid 
this agony of mind and body, the passion for his art burned un- 
damped. Only a fortnight before the end, he arranged to take les- 
sons in counterpoint from Simon Sechter, an eminent theorist who. 


twenty-seven years later, was to become the teacher of Anton 
Bruckner. On November n, he wrote a pathetic letter to Von 
Schober, telling him of violent nausea and asking for some novels 
by James Fenimore Cooper. Three days later, he was able to dis- 
cuss a new libretto, but by evening was delirious. The next day 
this new turn for the worse was diagnosed as typhus, the type dis- 
ease of city slums. In his feverish ravings he uttered the name of 
Beethoven: apparently, to Schubert's poor tortured mind, the fact 
that Beethoven was not with him meant that he had been buried 
alive. The agony finally ended on Wednesday, November 19, 1828. 
They buried him the following Friday. He who had in his life- 
time of genius earned less than the equivalent of $3000, left an 
"estate" old clothes and old music, mostly too small to pay for 
even the poorest funeral. His father and his brother Ferdinand 
strapped themselves to bury him where they were convinced he 
would have preferred to be as near Beethoven's grave as possi- 
ble. Early in 1829, from the proceeds of some special concerts, a 
monument was erected back of the grave, with the following epi- 
taph from the pen of Schubert's friend the poet Grillparzer: 


The epitaph caused violent controversies at the time, but in the 
main it was eminently fair. Today no one denies that much of 
Schubert's music is "a rich treasure," and those who are realistic 
even about their idols will admit that "still fairer hopes" is equally 
just and not merely in the way Grillparzer meant it. He was 
mourning for this Keats of music, cut off thus untimely. We mourn, 
too, that (unlike Keats) Schubert, with perhaps the richest natural 
endowment ever vouchsafed a musical artist, used it with complete 
success only in the realm of the song. He was, as Liszt said of him, 
"the most poetic of all musicians." Had he but been the most 
musicianly as well, he might indeed be where he would most want 
to be next to Beethoven. 

Chapter XI 

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy 

(Hamburg > February 3, iSog-November 4, 1847, Leipzig) 

story of Felix Mendelssohn is that of a Prince Charming. 
JL When he was born, amid the rejoicings and Gemuthlichkeit at- 
tending the birth of an heir to a prosperous Jewish family, the good 
fairies were ranged around his cradle. One of them gave him 
riches,, another beauty, another charm. Their sisters on the other 
side of the cradle were not to be outdone, and from them the baby 
received genius, a capacity for hard work, a noble character, and 
a strong constitution. The conclave of fairy godmothers was about 
to break up in complacent jollification when a silvery but unfa- 
miliar voice was heard: it belonged, alas! to a fairy whom they had 
thoughtlessly forgotten to invite. In the most dulcet of tones, she 
declared that she, too, had a gift for the child- "Throughout his 
life," she purred, "I shall see to it that he does everything easily 
and without effort." Her more dull-witted sisters thought this the 
best gift of all. The brighter ones merely pursed their lips. 

Mendelssohn's is the happiest life in musical history. He was 
brought up in a cultivated household by sympathetic parents who 
from the very beginning fostered his musical ambitions. At a ten- 
der age he enjoyed the intimate friendship of the undisputed lit- 
erary dictator of Europe, and all his life he had many warm and 
influential friends whose principal object in life seems to have 
been to serve him. Success came to him in the fullest measure at 
an absurdly early age, and at twenty-six he occupied the most im- 
portant post in musical Germany. He married, without the slight- 
est opposition, the woman of his choice a pretty, intelligent, and 
talented girl with whom he led a life of unblemished happiness, 
heightened, moreover, by five delightful children. Before reaching 
young middle age, he was the most revered composer in Europej 
and just when the first real clouds appeared on the horizon of his 
happiness, he died speedily and without pain. 

Mendelssohn's ancestry was distinguished. His grandfather, 
Moses Mendelssohn, was called "the modern Plato": one of his 
philosophical books had been translated into at least eight lan- 



guages, and Mirabeau, in the midst of stage-managing the French 
Revolution, found time to praise it. His lifelong battle to effect a 
sympathetic understanding between Jews and Christians was waged 
so eloquently that his son Abraham, Felix 5 father, became a Lu- 
theran, appending Bartholdy to his surname to distinguish himself 
from Mendelssohns still adhering to the Jewish faith. This estima- 
ble man, a successful banker and connoisseur of ideas, had a lively 
sense of his own sterling mediocrity: after Felix had become fa- 
mous he once gently complained, "I used to be the son of my 
father, and now I'm the father of my son." 

Abraham Mendelssohn married a rich, amiable, and intelligent 
girl, and they set up housekeeping at Hamburg. Their first child 
was a girl, Fanny, who became a talented pianist and a composer 
of sorts. Felix appeared next on the scene. When he was three 
years old, the family fled to Berlin in the path of Napoleon's Rus- 
siabound legions, and there it was that the tiny lad began his 
studies. There was nothing provincial or restricted about the cur- 
riculum laid down by the doting but thoughtful parents for their 
wonderful children. Their days were crowded with lessons of all 
sorts piano, violin, harmony, drawing, languages so crowded, 
in fact, that Felix later said that he lived in anticipation of Sunday, 
for that meant he would not have to get up at five o'clock in the 
morning to work. Nevertheless, he responded to this cramming 
system as a duck does to water, and in a very short time was sitting 
easily among the adults, discussing the most learned questions with 
the gravity of the young Jesus disputing with the rabbis of the 
Temple. Nor was his moral education likely to be neglected in so 
comprehensive a schooling: here, too, he seems to have had a 
natural adaptability he never had to struggle to be good. A work 
schedule that would drive a modern child berserk produced only 
the happiest results in him, doubtless because the family also knew 
how to have a good time. There is testimony galore the Men- 
delssohns entertained lavishly and often that the house resounded 
with gaiety and fun. There were plenty of games, plenty of good 
talk, plenty of good things to eat. Plenty, indeed, was the keynote 
of the Mendelssohn home, and the center of all its activity was the 
boy Felix a slender, high-strung child, with great dark eyes and 
a mop of curly brown hair, mercurial, sensitive, bubbling over 
with high spirits. 


Felix quickly established himself as Mozart's only rival as far as 
musical precocity was concerned. On October 28, 1818, he made 
his first public appearance, as a pianist in a concerto for two horns 
and piano. For some time he had been taking harmony and com- 
position lessons from Carl Friedrich Zelter, the director of the 
Singakademie, which he entered in 1819 as an alto. By the end of 
the next year, when he was eleven years old, he had composed 
more than sixty separate pieces, among them a cantata and a little 
Lustspiel in three scenes. The next five years teem with incredible 
musical productivity, and even before this period reached its term, 
Mendelssohn had achieved a facility and finish of technique be- 
yond which progress was impossible. The difference between his 
now unplayed juvenilia and the best works of his maturity is that 
the former spin out prosy commonplaces with uncanny adroitness 
while the latter have real distinction of musical idea. A C minor 
Symphony, actually the thirteenth he had composed, but the first 
he was willing to own up to, is very occasionally revived: it is 
pleasant, uneventful stuff, with, however, a minuet of considerable 
verve and grace. Meanwhile, the lad developed rapidly as a pian- 
ist, and in 1824 Ig naz Moscheles, at thirty already a most distin- 
guished virtuoso and pedagogue, was persuaded to give him a few 
lessons. Moscheles agreed with extreme diffidence, saying, c Tf he 
wishes to take a hint from me as to anything new to him, he can 
easily do so; but he stands in no need of lessons." Already FeHx 
was a poised and competent conductor. For some years, it was the 
Mendelssohns' custom to give musical parties on alternate Sun- 
days, when the children* joined a small group of professional mu- 
sicians in programs that always included at least one of Felix 3 
compositions. Even while still too short to be seen above the in- 
struments without standing on a stool, the boy always took the 
baton on these occasions. 

In May, 1821, Mendelssohn met Weber, who was in Berlin su- 
perintending the rehearsals of Der Freischiltz, and was present at 
the memorable premiere that ushered in a new era in German music. 
Responding excitedly to the novel style, with its glowing color and 
romantic atmosphere, he conceived a lifelong admiration for Weber, 
whose idiom he adapted lavishly, particularly in his overtures. 

* There were two children younger than Fanny and Felix: Rebecka, who sang, 
and Paul, who played the cello. 


After meeting Weber, Mendelssohn within a very few years was on 
friendly terms with many of the most famous personages in Eu- 
rope, In November, 1821, he visited Weimar for the first time, and 
spent more than a fortnight as Goethe's guest. When they first met, 
Goethe asked the boy to play something for him. "Shall it be the 
most beautiful music in the world?" Felix asked, as he sat down to 
the piano and played the minuet from Don Giovanni. The relation- 
ship between the seventy-two-year-old philosopher-poet and the 
twelve-year-old composer was neither artificial nor perfunctory: 
it was a real friendship that lasted until Goethe's death in 1832. 
Several years later, Mendelssohn accompanied his father to Paris, 
where he made many new acquaintances, among them Rossini 
and Meyerbeer. The formidable Cherubini, after astounding his 
confreres by approving of the lad, with austerely pedantic con- 
descension invited him to set a Kyrie for five voices and orchestra. 
Mendelssohn, who was a polite child, did so, and contented him- 
self with saying of the old Italian that he was an "extinct volcano, 
still throwing out occasional flashes and sparks, but quite covered 
with ashes and stones. 1 ' For French music in general he felt noth- 
ing but the most profound scorn. 

Only one magnifico stood out against Mendelssohn's overwhelm- 
ing charm and precocious gifts: Spontini, still smarting from his 
defeat at Weber's hands, used his all-powerful position in Berlin to 
prevent Die Hochzeit des Camacho, a two-act opera Felix had com- 
pleted on his return from Paris, from being given at the Kofoper. 
Spontini, who was mortally afraid of new talent, tried to discour- 
age him with pompous criticism. "My friend, 5 ' he said, pointing to 
the dome of a church, "you lack big ideas big like that dome." 
Maybe Spontini was right: Mendelssohn himself was disappointed 
in the opera when it finally reached the stage in 1827, an d was not 
noticeably crushed when, despite popular acclaim, it was with- 
drawn after the premiere. Even the overture, still heard now and 
then, is a jejune bit. 

Up to 1826 Mendelssohn's compositions had not unnaturally 
been distinguished by little more than facility and earnestness. 
Wunderkinder have a disheartening way of petering out, and even 
though no composer except Mozart did much of importance be- 
fore he was twenty, Mendelssohn's admirers must already have 
been wondering whether the seventeen-year-old was to develop 


into something more than a surpassingly competent third-rater. 
They had not long to wait, for even then he was working on a 
masterpiece. He and his sisters had been reading Shakespeare, and 
a whole new world of magic had been opened up to him. Nothing 
fired his imagination more than the lightness and elfin fantasy of 
A Midsummer Night's Dream. He set down his musical impressions 
in a piano duet, which sounded so promising that he decided to 
orchestrate it as an overture. It was first performed privately in 
the Gartenhaus of the Mendelssohns' new home at 3, Leipziger- 
strasse, for many years a rendezvous of musicians and artists from 
all over Europe. Six months later, in February, 1827, Felix drove 
more than eighty miles through a blinding snowstorm to conduct 
the public premiere at Stettin. 

The overture to A Midsummer Nigkfs Dream became during Men- 
delssohn's life, and has ever since remained, the best loved of his 
purely orchestral compositions. After a few evocative chords, it 
opens with a rippling staccato figure that instantly sets the scene in 
Fairyland, and for the most obvious of reasons no mortal could 
dance to this aerial rhythm. Momentarily the dance is interrupted 
by a sweetly dissonant chord, there is a hint of hurly-burly, and we 
hear the horns of Duke Theseus. He and his train pass by; the 
dancers resume, only to be crowded from the scene by the mortal 
lovers. With nice calculation, Mendelssohn has given these young 
people a more earthbound theme, a broadly romantic melody of 
Weberian character that not only affords a telling musical con- 
trast, but also beautifully points up their muddled loves. What can 
be more natural at this point than to introduce a reference to 
Bottom and the other clownish actors by a rustic dance with the 
veriest hint of peasant buskins? The rest of the overture is made up 
of recapitulation and development of these themes. All is exqui- 
sitely designed, thought out with flawless logic, and reverently 
adapted to the spirit of Shakespeare's play. The harmonies through- 
out are bold without being obtrusive. They were revolutionary in 
Mendelssohn's time, and have only now become commonplaces. 
The orchestration is equally original. Of this overture, Bernard 
Shaw, in 1892, wrote with evident surprise: "One can actually feel 
the novelty now, after sixty-six years." And today, after almost 
sixty years more, though we can no longer experience it as a nov- 


elty, its true originality keeps it fresh. Altogether, it is an amazing 
composition for a boy of seventeen. 

It is all the more amazing when considered as merely one of the 
coruscations of a life abnormal only in its extreme activity. Before 
the overture was finished, Mendelssohn had matriculated at the 
University of Berlin, where he listened with relish to Hegel's lec- 
tures on the esthetics of music. Moreover, he went about building 
his physique as conscientiously as his mind, and became a fine 
swimmer and rider. He danced elegantly, played a stiff game of 
billiards, and bowled on the green. In short, he had the accom- 
plishments of a gentleman, and the graces as well. The world of 
art and fashion came to 3, Leipzigerstrasse, and as Mendelssohn 
reached young manhood, he assumed with ease a leading role in 
these gatherings, and bore with equanimity the penalty of being 
the cynosure of all eyes. With his great musical future almost upon 
him, he became a better than mediocre water-colorist, and de- 
veloped his linguistic aptitude (he was the first to translate Terence 
into German in the original meter). If in these early years he. was 
not the most famous person at the parties, he was the most preco- 
cious in genius, the most varied in talent. The conversation must 
have been worth listening to: Heine's alone would have made any 
soiree memorable, and the presence of Alexander von Humboldt, 
scientist and world traveler, Bettina von Arnim, Wilhelm Miiller, 
Hegel, and the macabre Paganini, trailing clouds of spurious glory, 
guaranteed variety. 

As if this were not enough, Mendelssohn, in the last months of 

1827, formed a choir of sixteen picked voices to meet weekly at his 
home and practice the Matthew Passion. Even as a child, he had 
been passionately devoted to the neglected masterpieces of the old 
Thomascantor, and now was stung into action by the casual re- 
mark of another musician that "Bach is a mere arithmetical exer- 
cise." Mendelssohn knew the Passion by heart, and soon his own 
enthusiasm was communicated to the little group. By the end of 

1828, they were determined that the work should be given by the 
Singakademie, where his old teacher, Zelter, still reigned as direc- 
tor. Despite Mendelssohn's own feeling that the work's huge phys- 
ical requirements and the indifference .of the public were cogent 
arguments for not pushing production plans, in which opinion he 
was supported by his family and several of his friends, he allowed 


his own devotion to the music and the crusading zeal of the versa- 
tile actor-singer, Eduard Devrient, to propel his reluctant feet to 
the Singakademie, where he hesitatingly stammered out the pro- 
posal. At first, Zelter was opposed, but when Devrient joined his 
own pleas to Mendelssohn's, the day was won. Zelter, having given 
his word, threw the whole force of the Singakademie behind the 
production. The public was so curious about the novel doings that 
it flocked to the rehearsals. For the performance itself, on March 
n, 1829, with Mendelssohn conducting, more than a thousand 
were turned away. It was the first performance of the Matthew 
Passion outside Leipzig since Bach's death almost eighty years 

From these casual beginnings sprang the dissemination of what 
has proved the most fruitful musical influence of modern times. 
Others, including Schumann, soon joined the cause of Bach it 
really was a cause in those days and within a century Bach has 
changed in the public mind from "a mere arithmetical exercise 33 
to a position where he is acclaimed, with pardonable inaccuracy, 
as the Father of Music. We who take our Bach for granted as one 
of the staples of popular musical entertainment can scarcely re- 
alize that Mendelssohn and his scant cohorts were in the most real 
sense pioneers: the first steps in this revival took courage, and often 
aroused antagonism. There was even some display of hostility 
against Mendelssohn over the first performance of the Passion. For- 
tunately, he was fully aware of the importance of the task he was 
undertaking, and was resolved to brook no opposition in ppeaching 
his new gospel. He was proud of his part in the business, and once 
pointed out that "it was an actor and a Jew who restored this 
great Christian work to the people." This seems to have been the 
only time he ever referred to his race, for having been baptized a 
Lutheran, he always thought of himself as a Christian. 

After conducting a second performance of the Matthew Passion 
on Bach's birthday s Mendelssohn took ship for England, embark- 
ing at Hamburg and reaching London four days later. He arrived 
at the height of the opera season, and for a time did nothing but 
frequent Covent Garden and the theaters. He heard Malibran as 
Desdemona in Rossini's Otello; he saw Kemble as Hamlet, and 
deplored the performance too many cuts for such a strict Shake- 
spearean. It was not until late in May that he got around to making 


his English debut, conducting his own C minor Symphony from 
the piano at a Philharmonic concert. It was a heart-warming oc- 
casion, especially after the recent hostility of a bloc of Berlin mu- 
sicians act one, in fact, of that long-drawn-out love affair between 
Mendelssohn and the English public that is still going strong. A 
few days later, dressed in "very long white trousers, brown silk 
waistcoat, black necktie, and blue dress coat, 35 he played Weber's 
Conzertstuck "with no music before him," as The Times put it. Ev- 
erywhere the crowds succumbed to his charm, and soon he was 
writing home, "London life suits me exactly": the English did not 
know much about music, but they knew what they liked, and they 
liked Mendelssohn. As the trip to England was originally planned 
by his father as but the first stage in a grand tour, in the summer 
Mendelssohn toured Scotland and Wales, whose wild scenery and 
ruined abbeys gave him ideas that he later used in such musical 
landscapes as those in the "Scotch" Symphony and FingaVs Cave. 
Toward the end of the year, he was back in the cooler atmosphere 
of Berlin, with his reputation completely established in the British 
Isles. He was not yet twenty-one years old. 

Nursing a lame knee sustained in a carriage accident in London, 
Mendelssohn improved the shining hours by composing the "Ref- 
ormation" Symphony to commemorate the tercentenary of the 
Augsburg Confession. It turned out to be solid, pompous music 
with a setting of Ein feste Burg imbedded in the last movement. 
Political and religious disturbances prevented its performance in 
Germany in 1830; the good sense of a Paris orchestra let it get no 
farther than rehearsal in 1832; today a revival of this windy tract 
is rightly resented. 

Early in 1830, Mendelssohn was offered a specially created pro- 
fessorship of music at the University of Berlin, but refused it: 
Switzerland and Italy remained to be done, and the last thing in 
the world he wanted was to be tied down. An undignified case of 
measles delayed his departure, but in May he was at last ready. 
Halting at Weimar for what proved to be his last visit with Goethe, 
and stopping en route at the best houses and consorting with the 
best people, he proceeded by such easy stages that he did not ar- 
rive in Rome until November. Here he visited the art museums, 
haunted the Sistine Chapel, and duly astonished the Roman mu- 
sicians with his fluid musicianship. He could not get the Gregorian 


chant through his Lutheran head in fact, the subtleties of the 
Roman service were incomprehensible to his irascibly Protestant 
temper. He managed to unearth a few fine things in Palestrina, as 
he admitted to Baini, the most erudite of latter-day Palestrinians. 
In general, however, Rome wore as alien an aspect to Mendelssohn 
as it had to an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther, three 
hundred years before. Appropriately, it was in this winter city 
that he completed the first version of the somber FingaVs Cave. 

Naples appealed to him more though even there he longed for 
London and its lightness and unthinking gaiety echo through 
some of his later compositions. After six weeks' delicious dawdling, 
Mendelssohn remembered that he was a German, and started 
north. In Milan he played Mozart to the composer's son Karl. In 
Switzerland he amazed some monks by introducing them to the 
organ fugues of Bach, a composer previously unknown to them. 
September found him hobnobbing with the King of Bavaria in 
Munich, where he composed, and played for the first time, his 
second-rate G minor Piano Concerto. Before Christmas he was in 
Paris, which proved less susceptible to his charms than London. 
The Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire did the overture to A 
Midsummer Nighfs Dream, balked at the "Reformation" Symphony 
and left Mendelssohn severely alone for eleven years. The cool- 
ness of Paris was disheartening enough, but here, too, he received 
news that Goethe had died at Weimar. Around Mendelssohn in 
Paris shone the glitter of mid-nineteenth-century music: Liszt, him- 
self to rule at Weimar before many years had passed, Chopin^ 
Meyerbeer, and Ole Bull, half genius, half charlatan, heir to Paga- 
nini's crown. Mendelssohn lingered in Paris for four months, living 
the life of a well-behaved society butterfly, but completely failing 
to establish himself musically. 

In April, 1832, Mendelssohn reached London again. The "smoky 
nest" he had pined for in Naples now showed its fairest face, and 
one he had not previously seen: the weather was balmy, the lilacs 
were in blossom and he fell more than ever in love with the city. 
He was received with open arms, and responded by a fine burst of 
musical activity, playing both piano and organ in public, arrang- 
ing various of his pieces (notably Book I of the Lieder ohm Worte) 
for publication, and composing the Capriccio brillant, a clever bra- 
vura piece for piano and orchestra. Most important, on May 14, 


the Philharmonic performed the "Hebrides" Overture. Mendels- 
sohn was not satisfied with it: he at once revised it radically, and 
by the end of June had finished what was essentially a new work. 
Known under a variety of titles, among them FingaVs Cave, the 
''Hebrides" Overture disputes place with that to A Midsummer 
Nighfs Dream in quality. We have the composer's own testimony 
that the lapping figure with which it opens came into his mind 
during his visit to Fingal's Cave in the remote Hebrides. Wagner, 
with his genius for trivializing the truth, sneeringly called the over- 
ture an aquarelle. Actually, it is one of the great seascapes of music. 
The severity and aptness of the themes, unquestionably among 
Mendelssohn's happiest inspirations, the utter sufficiency of the de- 
velopment, and the uncanny balancing of the instruments all 
contribute to a formal perfection that has, as Tovey says, "the vital 
and inevitable unexpectedness of the classics." In the "Hebrides" 
Mendelssohn wins the right to be called a great composer, for 
starting with material of surpassing beauty and originality, he lov- 
ingly molds it into a form exactly suited to its requirements. 

Mendelssohn was still in London when news reached him of 
Zelter's death: this meant that the directorship of the Singakade- 
mie, a post of great prestige, was open. On returning to Berlin, he 
indicated that he would accept the position if elected, but refused 
to push his candidacy against that of Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen, 
long Zelter's first aide. It turned out that assuming this passive 
role was the most tactful thing Mendelssohn could have done: he 
was not liked among the petty, spiteful musicians of the Prussian 
capital, and Rungenhagen' s election was all but certain from the 
beginning. Mendelssohn accepted his overwhelming defeat calmly, 
but it clouded his temper, and made him eager to leave Berlin for a 
more congenial arena. An offer to conduct the important Lower 
Rhine Festival at Diisseldorf the following spring assuaged his 
vexed spirit. Close on its heels came a most flattering bid from the 
London Philharmonic, accompanied by a hundred-guinea order 
for a new symphony and other pieces. He at once began complet- 
ing an A major symphony he had begun in Italy in 1831. Oddly 
enough for so facile a composer, the process caused him acute 
agony of mind. He literally wrestled with the materials, and did 
not lay his pen aside until March 13, 1833. 

The "Italian" Symphony, produced in (for Mendelssohn) such 


long-drawn-out travail, shows no sign of effort. Its inspired spon- 
taneity never flags, and in a certain sense the pace never falters. 
It begins with an allegro and ends with a presto, and though the 
middle movements are in slower tempos, the information is subtly 
conveyed that the rapid pace will shortly be resumed. This sense of 
a pervasive motion germane to the character of the symphony as a 
whole is not unique with Mendelssohn, but as one element of unity 
he has used it here with a complete success that has often eluded 
more profound musical thinkers. Yet the "Italian" Symphony does 
not lack variety: the first movement rushes along with gay and 
assertive impetuosity; the andante is a processional, dignified but 
not solemn, with a staccato suggestion that the marchers are im- 
patient to get on to the lighter business of the day; they do so via 
a lyrical but practical moderato and go into their dance. It is 
one of the enigmas of musical history that Mendelssohn was never 
satisfied with this saltarello, and until his death nursed hopes of 
revising it. Fortunately, he never touched it, for it is perfect as it 
stands the most lighthearted and swift-footed of all symphonic 
dances. In hearing it, one thinks immediately of that other great 
symphonic dance of a more robust people the gigantic kermis 
that closes the A major Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. Men- 
delssohn's is a supremely fitting conclusion to an "Italian" sym- 

First produced under the composer's baton on May 13, 1833, 
the "Italian" delighted the Londoners, and when three days later 
he left to keep his date at Dtisseldorf, it was with a promise to re- 
turn immediately the Rhine Festival was over. Exalted by the 
triumph of a work of which he had entertained the darkest mis- 
givings, he carried all before him at Diisseldorf. It has been said 
that Mendelssohn was the first conductor to play upon the or- 
chestra as upon a single instrument, and his Rhenish debut was 
indeed impressive. The programs included Beethoven's "Pastoral" 
Symphony, his own noisy "Trumpet" Overture, and a complete 
performance of Israel in Egypt in its original form something of a 
slap at the Berlin Singakademie, which had lately felt called upon 
to reorchestrate Handel. Mendelssohn's pleasure over the warm 
recognition of his talents was intensified by the fact that his father, 
who had begun to lose his sight, was able to be present. It knew no 
bounds when that recognition took the form of an invitation to 


become musical director at Diisseldorf for three years. Mendels- 
sohn accepted at once, and after several weeks in London with 
his father a frank vacation they both enjoyed returned to the 
scene of his new activities. 

With his accustomed energy, Mendelssohn rolled up his sleeves, 
and began to reorganize Diisseldorf music from top to bottom. 
First came the church music: "Not one tolerable solemn mass, and 
not a single one of the old Italian masters; nothing but modern 
dross" was to be found in the town, so he drove to Elberfeld, Bonn, 
and Cologne, and within a few days was back with a carriageload 
of Palestrina, Di Lasso, Pergolesi, and Leonardo Leo. After that, 
there were at least during Mendelssohn's incumbency no more 
"scandalous" Masses heard in Diisseldorf. He was successful in 
raising the standard of music heard in the concert rooms, but at 
the opera house he struck a snag. He mounted Don Giovanni and 
Le Nozze di Figaro, Cherubini's Deux Journees, and Egmont with 
Beethoven's incidental music. But the opera audiences objected to 
the severity of his taste, and also to the scaling-up of the prices. 
There was a little revolution in Diisseldorf, and Mendelssohn re- 
signed from active direction of the opera before he was deposed. 
Opera had never been his metier: his own tentative experiments 
had been failures, and like Beethoven, he objected to the loose 
tone of most librettos. This new rebuff steeled him in a resolve to 
turn to the more genial atmosphere of the oratorio. The very 
month he resigned from the opera he began working in this, to 
him, new field, sketching the outlines of an ambitious work to be 
known as St. Paul., which took two years to complete. 

In general, Mendelssohn's life at Diisseldorf was extremely happy, 
with only the pettiest of difficulties to surmount: the greatest crisis 
was at the opera, and its seemingly disappointing outcome came 
actually as a relief to him. As a composer, however, he was rather 
disposed to rest on his laurels. When one is twenty-five, and al- 
ready world-famous, there can seem little reason for hurry. A bland 
but unimportant overture Die schbne Melusine a Rondo brillant for 
piano and orchestra, and some pleasant songs are the outstanding 
productions of his Diisseldorf years. One of the songs is the luscious 
and ever-popular setting of Heine's Auf Flugeln des Gesanges, now 
heard more often in Liszt's piano transcription than in the original. 
Its treacly effusiveness and the almost embarrassing sentimentality 


of its melodic Ene make one thankful that Mendelssohn did not 
waste much time on lieder. 

Early in 1835 there came to Mendelssohn, in his pleasant pro- 
vincial backwater, an invitation that he could not refuse: Leipzig 
wanted him for the Gewandhaus concerts. The negotiations lead- 
ing to his acceptance of this offer show him, on one hand, as a 
close, even a hard, bargainer, and on the other, as almost neu- 
rotically anxious lest he injure someone's position and sensibilities. 
Once the deal was closed, he took it easy until June, when he con- 
ducted the Lower Rhine Festival at Cologne with great acclama- 
tion, coming away with a fat fee and a complete edition of Handel, 
presented to him by the festival committee. In August, he took up 
his new duties at Leipzig, and explored the social possibilities of 
the town. Chopin came to visit him, and together the pair found 
their way to the home of Friedrich Wieck, a noted music teacher 
whose sixteen-year-old daughter Clara was already one of the most 
famous pianists in Europe. There, too, they met a moody and 
silent young man named Robert Schumann, the editor of a radical 
musical sheet, and composer of a piano suite called Carnaval. At 
the Gewandhaus Mendelssohn found more than a satisfactory band, 
and his Leipzig debut as a conductor passed without mishap. The 
audience was more than polite to his own early "Meeresstille" Over- 
ture rather a trifle for opening so important a concert and 
shouted its bravos after each movement of Beethoven's Fourth 
Symphony. While there were varying opinions as to Mendelssohn's 
ability as a conductor, there is no doubt that he whipped up the 
Gewandhaus orchestra into the most efficient in Europe. He was 
persevering, earnest, and reverent toward the intentions of the 
composers he conducted. Furthermore, he was on friendly terms 
with his men, and always got their enthusiastic co-operation. The 
most serious charge leveled at him was that he tended to rush 
certain tempos. Berlioz, Schumann, and Wagner complained bit- 
terly of his treatment of Beethoven, whose works appeared con- 
stantly on his programs. Chorley, who was devoted to Mendelssohn, 
said that on the podium he was "lively rather than certain,' 5 and 
there seems no doubt that this liveliness contributed largely to his 
tremendous popularity as a conductor. 

In October, shortly after his debut at the Gewandhaus, Men- 
delssohn went off for a two-day holiday in Berlin with his Mend 


Moscheles. Never had the Leipzigerstrasse house been gayer, de- 
spite the fact that its host was now quite blind. It was the last time 
Mendelssohn ever saw his father, for little more than a month 
later, he received news that the old man had died in his sleep. This 
was a heavy blow, for he had been deeply attached to him. It did 
not, however, materially affect his life. "The only thing that now 
remains is to do one's duty/ 5 he wrote solemnly. "I shall now work 
with double zeal at the completion of St. Paul, for my father urged 
me to in the very last letter he wrote me." 

Mendelssohn had originally contracted to give Frankfort the first 
hearing of St. Paul in November, 1835. But n * s father's death had 
naturally slowed down his work all along the line, and the oratorio 
was not finished until spring. He used it, instead, to lead off at the 
Lower Rhine Festival at Diisseldorf that May. The soloists were 
professionals, but most of the r 72 men in the orchestra and of the 
chorus of 364 voices were amateurs. The performance was rough: 
the professionals, like an embattled minority, tried to do their best, 
but at the end Mendelssohn was not wholly satisfied with either 
the day's work or St. Paul itself. "Many parts caused me much 
pleasure," he wrote, "others not so; but I learned a lesson from it 
all, and hope to succeed better the next time I write an oratorio." 
If St. Paul did not please its own composer, there seems little reason 
to linger over this unsatisfactory incense offering to Bach. It was 
tremendously popular throughout the nineteenth century, particu- 
larly in England, but it is now more often scornfully talked about 
(by persons who can never have heard a note of it) than performed. 
There are certain solemn works so foreign to modern taste, and 
because of their length so boring, so absurdly amusing, or so in- 
furiating, that it is now impossible to do them justice. Among 
these, like one of the prosy heroes of The Dunciad> St. Paul stands 
well in the forefront. It was a fine experience to hear Schumann- 
Heink proclaim "But the Lord is mindful of His own," which is 
but one of several effective numbers buried in the score, but only a 
now unforeseeable revolution in taste could revive the oratorio in 
its entirety. 

After the festival was over, Mendelssohn went to Frankfort to do 
some substitute conducting. He was coddled in the charming home 
atmosphere of the versatile Ferdinand Hiller, whose house was as 
much a rendezvous of artists as that of the Mendelssohns in Berlin. 


Among those he met was Rossini, c 'sitting there as large as life, 
in his best and most amiable mood." Now it was the charmer's 
turn to be charmed. He wrote to his mother that anyone who did 
not think Rossini a genius had but to listen to his conversation. But 
it was at the home of a Mme Jeanrenaud tLat Mendelssohn was 
most often seen., and at first there were whispers that he was court- 
ing this attractive young widow. A troubled Mendelssohn then 
left for a month at the seashore to think things out,, after which, 
with his mind completely made up, he returned to Frankfort, and 
requested the hand, not of Mme Jeanrenaud, but of her seventeen- 
year-old daughter, Cecile Charlotte Sophie. The betrothal was an- 
nounced in September, and six months later, on March 28, 1837, 
they were married at the Walloon French Reformed church, of 
which the deceased M. Jeanrenaud had been pastor. 

Mendelssohn's married life was one of idyllic happiness, though 
his wife seems to have been a woman of rather trivial tastes. Five 
children, all of whom outlived their father one of the daughters, 
indeed, into the twentieth century literally blessed their union, 
for Mendelssohn was a doting parent who delighted in the guileless 
ways of small children. The Mendelssohns, in short, were an exact 
pattern of everything expected of the Victorian gentleman and b^s 

In August, Mendelssohn had to tear himself away from his wife. 
England was clamoring for him, and he had promised to conduct 
the Birmingham Festival that year. While staying in London, he 
played the organ several times, and once at St. Paul's drew such 
huge crowds that the verger took the drastic step of disconnecting 
the beDows in the middle of a Bach fugue: it was the only way the 
church could be emptied. Many of Mendelssohn's contemporaries 
believed that this slight, elegant man was the greatest organist of 
the time. At Birmingham, St. Paul was acclaimed by enthusiastic 
thousands: Handel's rival in popularity had appeared. Scarcely 
less frenzied was the applause that greeted Mendelssohn's own 
playing of the D minor Piano Concerto he had composed especially 
for the occasion. If it seems inconceivable to us that any audience 
could go wild over this merely perfect and well-mannered music, 
it must be remembered that it was, on this occasion, being played 
by a magician. For this incredible man was also in the very front 
rank of the pianists of his day we have as witnesses not merely the 


Indiscriminate, pious English press, but Ms best-qualified contem- 
poraries: Clara Schumann, Joachim, Killer, and many others. Ber- 
lioz declared that Mendelssohn was even able to convey "an ac- 
curate idea" of instrumental color by playing an orchestral score 
on the piano an amazing tribute from one who detested the piano, 
and was himself an unrivaled master of the orchestral palette. 

The next few years were uneventfully prosperous for Mendels- 
sohn. The Gewandhaus concerts w r ere soon known throughout 
the length and breadth of Europe, for not only was the orchestra 
itself first-rate, but Mendelssohn was pronouncedly hospitable to 
new r compositions of merit or striking originality. When Berlioz 
visited Leipzig, early in 1843, Mendelssohn devoted an extra con- 
cert to the Frenchman's music, which he thoroughly detested. All 
the leading virtuosos of the time performed under his baton: Bach's 
Triple Concerto, for instance, was heard once with Hiller, Liszt, 
and Mendelssohn, while another time Clara Schumann and Mo- 
scheles joined him in playing it. His fine taste was revealed in the 
selection of his programs, his rare musical scholarship in the resur- 
rection of the classics of the past. 

Most of the compositions Mendelssohn wrote during the first few 
years after his marriage need detain no one. Although amply sup- 
plied with the familiar finish and gloss, they were too bloodless to 
survive into this century. The overture to Victor Hugo's Ruy Bias 
is very much an exception. Describing the play's rodomontade as 
"detestable and more utterly beneath contempt than you could 
believe/ 5 Mendelssohn softly acceded to the solicitations of the 
Theatrical Pension Fund of Leipzig that he provide curtain music 
for their production of it in 1839. In three days, he turned out in a 
fit of annoyance at both himself and the Fund one of the most 
bang-up overtures of his career. It has absolutely no relation to 
Hugo's tragic villains and victims. It is, in fact, little short of 
rollicking, except for a few sinister chords that seem to have been 
injected into die score for the joke of the thing. It has outlasted 
many of Mendelssohn's attempts at grander and more profound 
effects. In 1840, the quatercentenary of the invention of printing 
drew from him one of his most solemn and self-conscious flights 
the vast symphony-cantata known in Germany as the Lobgesang, 
to English festival audiences as the Hymn of Praise. The use of a 
battery of soloists, chorus, orchestra, and organ could not cover up 


the fact that here Mendelssohn was out of his depth. What was 
intended to be solemn sounds pompous; what was meant to be 
moving too often sounds like schoolgirl rhetoric; and when the 
forces mass in a bid for overwhelming grandeur, the result is a 
cavernous grandiloquence. If Mendelssohn had to be judged solely 
on the merits of his imitations of the greatest designs of Bach and 
Handel., he would be written down as a second-rater. 

After a sixth visit to England, during which the Hymn of Praise 
was triumphantly presented at the Birmingham Festival, Men- 
delssohn returned to Leipzig in full anticipation of continuing his 
happy life there. It was not to be. Within a few months, his brother 
Paul appeared on the scene as an emissary from Friedrich Wilhelm 
IV, King of Prussia. Having just ascended the throne, and being 
desirous of raising the cultural level of Berlin, the monarch had 
drawn up plans for a mammoth academy of the arts. It was to be 
divided into four sections painting, sculpture, architecture, and 
music a commanding figure was to direct each division, and 
Friedrich Wilhelm was determined to have Mendelssohn among 
his directors. The salary offered was, even to a man of Mendels- 
sohn's more than comfortable means, attractive. But he was highly 
dubious about the great scheme, and very reluctant to leave Leip- 
zig. Negotiations dragged along interminably, but by May, 1841, 
he was settled in Berlin, where he had promised to remain for a 
year. He came on his own terms, with no feeling that the arrange- 
ment was final. He was allowed to retain the formal direction of 
the Gewandhaus, though for practical reasons his friend Ferdinand 
David was appointed temporary conductor. 

Once in Berlin, Mendelssohn found the King an autocrat whose 
mind teemed with a thousand abortive ideas, and who wanted him 
at his beck and call every minute. Mendelssohn's misgivings about 
the proposed academy were justified at once: it simply failed to 
materialize, and the composer found himself metamorphosed into 
the King's Kapellmeister, a position he held concurrently with the 
Gewandhaus directorate for the rest of his life. Friedrich Wil- 
helm's grandiose schemes involved, among other things, the re- 
suscitation of great dramas, and for the production of several of 
them Mendelssohn was commissioned to write incidental music. 
Of that to Antigone and to Oedipus Coloneus not a note is now to be 


heard, but that to Racine's Athalie has fared somewhat better: a 
stirring "War March of the Priests" is still played. 

The production of Mendelssohn's next masterpiece was reserved 
for his beloved Leipzig. At the Gewandhaus, on March 3, 1842, 
he conducted a companion piece to the "Italian" Symphony tlic 
"Scotch" Symphony, in A minor, which he had begun in Italy 
eleven years before. Like the "Hebrides" Overture, it was a result 
of his artistically fruitful trip to Scotland in 1829. More varied in 
mood, and technically more showy than the earlier of the two 
"national" symphonies, it lacks the bright spontaneity and effort- 
lessness of the "Italian." \Vhereas the earlier of the symphonies had 
been Italian only by courtesy, its Latin flavor residing mainly in 
its lightheartedness and the use of a Neapolitan dance rhythm in 
the last movement, the "Scotch" Is clearly programmatic. Not 
only are the harmonic intervals suggestive of those in Scotch folk 
music, but the melodies themselves are so reminiscent of Highland 
folk tunes that the chief theme of the second movement has been 
described as an echo of Charlie Is My Darling. The symphony opens 
with a broad landscape painting in Mendelssohn's best style: this 
passage, little more than sixty bars long, serves to set the scene, 
after which we at once hear a minor melody as Scotch as heather. 
There is a sudden thundershower Mendelssohn's attempt at real- 
Ism, though clever, sounds a bit amusing nowadays the storm 
dies down, and the movement closes with a brief return to the 
peaceful landscape of the opening. The second movement is a 
dancing vivace, the third a rather unexpected return to Germany* 
a wishy-washy affair withal, with deplorable excursions into 
pseudo grandeur. The fourth movement is quite as effective as the 
marvelous saltarello of the "Italian" Symphony a wild dance of 
rude Highlanders who stamp furiously into a smug coda that closes 
the symphony. A marred masterpiece. 

In May, 1842, Mendelssohn, accompanied by his wife, crossed 
over to England. He conducted the "Scotch" Symphony at a Phil- 
harmonic concert to such wild applause that the grateful directors 
tendered him a fish dinner at Greenwich. Summoned to Bucking- 
ham Palace, he was requested by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert 
to play a miscellany of German trifles. Mendelssohn was a man 
after their own hearts, and soon was asked back. This time the 

* Though it is said to have been inspired by his meditations at Holyrood Castle 


Queen graciously granted him permission to dedicate the "Scotch" 
Symphony to her. He could not have been wholly indifferent to 
this mark of royal favor, but he was in general disinclined to put 
much stock in the condescension of kings. 

From the King of Saxony, however, Mendelssohn obtained some- 
thing he really did want: a decree founding a conservatory of 
music at Leipzig. Almost simultaneously, he received notice that 
he had been appointed general music director to the King of 
Prussia, and was on the point of leaving for Berlin to settle all 
details when the news came that his mother had died. He spent a 
cheerless holiday season at 3, Leipzigerstrasse, which had now be- 
come his property, and returned to Leipzig to immerse himself in 
the details incident to the establishment of the conservatory. He 
persuaded Schumann to share the piano and composition classes 
with him; David was selected to teach violin and orchestral en- 
semble, while, as a graceful gesture to his predecessor at the Ge- 
wandhaus, he insisted that Pohlenz (who, however, died before 
the conservatory opened) head the department of singing. On 
April 3, 1843, the new institution, temporarily located in the Ge- 
wandhaus, was formally inaugurated, and under Mendelssohn's 
energetic supervision became within a few years a fine music school. 

But Mendelssohn's hold on these scenes of congenial activity was 
becoming all too tenuous. In August, he was commanded to speed 
up incidental music for three of the dramas involved in the King 
of Prussia's apotheosis of the stage. This entailed a tremendous 
spending of energy, for not only did Mendelssohn have to complete 
a large amount of music, but he had to arrange and rearrange 
plans for the actual productions according to the sequence of the 
King's whims. Finally, after unprecedented stewing and fretting,, 
the first of them Antigone took place in September. A month 
later, on October 14, A Midsummer Nighfs Dream was given at the 
Neue Palais, Potsdam. Shakespeare was at once voted to be in bad 
taste (though some believed that he had merely translated a Ger- 
man play into English), but the music enchanted everyone, as it 
has continued to, down to this day.* Using the overture he had 
composed seventeen years before, Mendelssohn added to it thir- 

* Except, of course, in Nazi Germany, where pure Aryan music was supplied by 
one Theo Knobe! after Richard Strauss admitted his inability to improve on 


teen new numbers of almost uniform effectiveness, the result being 
a pattern of what incidental music should be. Several of the pieces, 
wrenched from their context where their aptness adds immeas- 
urably to their charm are among the most familiar music ever 
written. The triumphant, delightfully trashy Wedding March 
for the Victorias and Alberts of all eternity has been played lit- 
erally millions of times, usually as a pendant to the more solemnly 
mawkish Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin. But it is more than un- 
likely that the Funeral March, with its mock-tragic strains, will 
ever accompany a single corse to its sepulture. The Intermezzo 
and the Nocturne have their devotees. Quite as spontaneous and 
inspired as the Overture itself is the Scherzo an aerial moto per- 
petuo of gossamer texture, the sprightliest of all possible illustra- 
tions of the word "Mendelssohnian." 

Forced against his wishes into a position of musical dictatorship 
in Berlin, Mendelssohn found that he would have temporarily to 
resign the Gewandhaus direction to Hiller. In November, he 
moved, lock, stock, and barrel, to Berlin, and set up his household 
at 3, Leipzigerstrasse. A most unpleasant winter followed, during 
which the composer was harassed by piddling official duties that 
vexed his spirit and depleted his strength. By spring things had 
come to such a pass that he decided to give up his house. The city 
had become hateful to him. In May, leaving his family in Frank- 
fort, he went to London for an eighth visit, and conducted the last 
six conceits of the Philharmonic season. One unfortunate incident 
marred this visit: among the novelties he intended to introduce 
were Schubert's G major Symphony and his own Ruy Bias Over- 
ture. At rehearsals the orchestra responded so coldly to the Schu- 
bert that he withdrew not only it, but also the overture. In gen- 
eral, however, he was idolized. The Philharmonic had never ended 
their season so happily: they were able to put 400 away in a 
reserve fund, and Mendelssohn himself rejoined his family with 
his pockets bulging with money he did not need. He idled away 
the rest of the summer in the country, and in September grudg- 
ingly returned to Berlin, He was not well, and sensing that his 
malaise was due to the combination of duties that bored him and a 
city he had come to detest, he finally persuaded the King to re- 
lease him from any except an honorary tenure of his official posts. 
He was back in Frankfort before the holidays, and there he re- 


mained In stubborn isolation until September, 1845, even refusing 
to budge for the first performance of Ms Violin Concerto at the 
Gewandhaus on March 13. 

The E minor is the most popular of all violin concertos, and that 
Mendelssohn, who had an innocent, almost childlike love of ap- 
plause, was not at its highly successful premiere is ironical. Yet he 
himself, five years before it was finished it was begun in 1838 
had been assured by Ferdinand David that it would stand with 
Beethoven's as one of the two big concertos for violin. And, allow- 
ing for its smaller proportions, for its suaver and more feminine 
contours, that is exactly where it stands. The E minor is as slick as 
a whistle with a lyric note, and the mere expertness of its fashion- 
ing is not the least part of its perennial attractiveness. Here, in 
truth, is a work of "heavenly length 33 : the themes have a beautiful 
punctuality of statement and development; there is not a moment 
of malingering in the concerto, not a bar of padding. No better 
lightweight music has ever been written: it is ineffably sweet, ten- 
der, lyrical and heartless. In some undefinable, but unmistakable, 
way it just escapes real greatness. It is a masterpiece of a musician 
of genius but not of a great man. 

In September, 1845, tiie Mendelssohns returned to Leipzig, 
Felix apparently much the better for his months of rest. The Ge- 
wandhaus concerts began in October. The season was an especially 
brilliant one, during which Jenny Lind, to whom Mendelssohn 
was devoted, made her first Leipzig appearance. He threw himself 
with a new energy into his teaching at the conservatory. He was 
worshiped by his students as by his audiences, and stood in happy 
contrast to the shy and self-absorbed Schumann, who in one year 
had proved a complete failure as a teacher. Except for occasional 
bursts of temperament, Mendelssohn's way with his students was 
affable, easygoing, chatty, and thorough. He kept up a running 
fire of comment, often of a witty nature. One of his favorite meth- 
ods of teaching was to write a musical theme on a blackboard, and 
then have each of the pupils add a counterpoint to it. On one 
occasion, when the last man up was unable to add anything more 
to the theme, Mendelssohn asked sharply, "Can't you tell where 
to put the next note?' 3 The student shook his head, and Mendels- 
sohn said in a relieved voice, "That's good! Neither can I." 

Mendelssohn's resumption of his Leipzig duties was coincident 


with the last stages of the largest-scale creative effort of his career 
the composition of the oratorio Elijah., which he had begun to 
think about as early as 1837. Now, with but the finishing touches 
lacking, it was promised to the Birmingham Festival. Putting on a 
work of such vast proportions required ideally, at least many 
rehearsals, but unfortunately he was detained in Leipzig until 
about ten days before the premiere. Conducting the Lower Rhine 
Festival at Aachen, and a German-Flemish celebration at Cologne, 
the arrangement of an all-Spohr program at the Gewandhaus, 
with the vain old violinist quartered on him and the already for- 
midable and sharply critical Wagner on the scene all this, and 
much more, Mendelssohn had to edge in before he could leave for 
his ninth visit to England. It was an unusually hot summer, and 
it was a very tired Mendelssohn who arrived at Birmingham, only 
three days before the premiere. Fortunately, Moscheles had been 
invaluable in rehearsing the soloists. And in the scant seventy-two 
hours allotted to him, Mendelssohn worked miracles. He had his 
reward: the world premiere of Elijah, on the morning of August 26, 
1846, was the crowning success of his life. He was able to write to 
his brother Paul with pardonable exultation: "During the whole 
two hours and a half that it lasted, the two thousand people in 
the large hall, and the large orchestra, were all so fully intent on 
the one object in question, that not the slightest sound was to be 
heard among the whole audience, so that I could sway at pleasure 
the enormous orchestra and choir and also the organ accompani- 
ments. . . . No work of mine ever went so admirably the first time 
of execution, or was received with such enthusiasm, by both the 
musicians and the audience, as this oratorio." 

The roar of acclamation that greeted Elijah that sultry August 
morning almost a century ago has been equaled, if not outdone, a 
hundred times since, particularly in England, where the oratorio 
stands next to Messiah in the popular affection and as a festival 
staple. The British Empire would not be the British Empire if a 
year's suns went by without shining down on a performance of 
Elijah. America is not so oratorio-loving, and in recent years, at 
least, the B minor Mass and the Matthew Passion have been per- 
formed here more often than Elijah, which is unknown to thou- 
sands of our music lovers. Of the many recordings of excerpts of 
the work, more than ninety-five per cent (including, of course, the 


complete recording) are by British artists. Nor is it probable that 
more performances of Elijah would win many new friends for it 
here. It is long and windy, with interminable passages of false 
eloquence., highfalutin rectitude, and bloody Jehovistic dogma. 
The many fine lyric pages tend to get lost amid this turgidity. 
Elijah lasts two hours and a half: during the first half it sounds like 
a tolerably good imitation of Bach and Handel, but by the end of 
the second half it is likely to sound like an intolerably bad imita- 
tion. Why the English like not only Elijah, but tenth-rate imita- 
tions of it by their own composers as well, is a problem that for 
years engaged the attention of George Bernard Shaw, without his 
being able to find an answer to it. To own recordings of "If with 
all your hearts," the solemn "It is enough," and CC O rest in the 
Lord," one of the most moving of all contralto arias, and to ab- 
stain strictly from complete performances of the oratorio, is man's 
whole duty toward Elijah. 

Mendelssohn, in his hour of greatest triumph, returned exhausted 
to Leipzig. Niels W. Gade, as his deputy at the Gewandhaus, 
henceforth conducted most of the concerts. At the conservatory, 
Mendelssohn resumed his teaching conscientiously but without his 
old enthusiasm. He revised parts of Elijah., and began an opera on 
the Lorelei legend for Jenny Lind, which, however, was left a 
fragment. In the spring of 1847, he returned to England for his 
tenth, and last, visit, Joachim accompanying him in the role of 
sympathetic special nurse. He was foolhardily wasteful of his 
strength, and within a fortnight conducted a command symphonic 
program in London and six performances of Elijah four in Lon- 
don alone. At Buckingham Palace, Victoria and Albert kept the 
ailing man at the piano for two hours. Furthermore, he fulfilled 
many social obligations, and was among those who heard Lind 
win London at a single performance at Her Majesty's. After a fare- 
well call on the Queen, Mendelssohn crossed over to the Continent 
the next morning. At the Prussian border he was mistakenly de- 
tained as a Dr. Mendelssohn wanted for political underground ac- 
tivity, and was subjected to several hours of wearisome questioning 
before he was allowed to proceed to Frankfort. He felt intense 
vexation, but this soon gave place to tragic depression. Being told 
abruptly that his sister Fanny had died, he shrieked, and fell un- 


conscious to the floor. He had raptured a blood vessel in his head, 
and from that moment he was a dying man, 

By June Mendelssohn had rallied enough to take a vacation in 
Switzerland, where he did no composing, but filled his water-color 
sketchbooks with the scenery around Interlaken. Lingering there, 
he did not return to Leipzig until September. Great plans filled 
his head a production of Elijah in Vienna with Jenny Lind, vast 
new compositions, the coming season of the Gewandhaus. But an 
insidious depression mastered him, and he was forced to give up 
his duties and settle down where he had ruled as king, in the un- 
familiar role of private citizen. Early in October, he paid a call on 
his friend Livia Frege, one of the most eminent of German lieder 
singers, to request her to sing over the last set of songs he had 
composed. She left the room for candles, and returned to find 
Mendelssohn in agony. He was borne back to his own house, where 
leeches were applied. Within a few days he seemed better, and 
before the month was over was even able to take a walk with his 
wife. But the will to live was gone, the recovery but apparent. Two 
apoplectic strokes left him unconscious, and on Thursday night, 
November 4, 1847, he died in the presence of his grief-stricken rela- 
tives and friends, including Moscheles and David. He was not yet 
thirty-nine years old. 

When the Wagner-Liszt regime came into power, Mendelssohn's 
was one of the first reputations to be put to the ax. Liszt was at 
least well disposed toward Mendelssohn, but Wagner, though he 
never came to blows with him during his lifetime, vilified him and 
his music unmercifully. The Wagnerians, quick to take a cue from 
their master, belittled his memory on every possible occasion 
and this campaign of denigration is still being carried on by that 
large and faithful band who judge music by its degree of Wagner- 
ishness. It is a campaign conducted actually without rules, but with 
a fine show of reasonableness. They declare that Mendelssohn is 
trivial, and prove it by pointing to the most inane and vapid 
effusions of his pen. By judging him on the basis of such Lieder ohm 
Worte as those known as the "Spring Song" and "Consolation/' 
by the Wedding March from A Midsummer Nigkfs Dream, and by 
Auf Flveeln des Gesanges, they do as grave disservice to truth as if 


they were to evaluate Schumann by Traumerei, Sibelius by the 
Valse triste or Wagner by the "Evening Star." 

Now, there is no doubt that Mendelssohn wrote a great deal of 
either merely adequate or plainly bad music. His chamber works 
belong mainly to the former category, though the piano trios par- 
ticularly are deft, amiable., and even endearing. Most of his piano 
music belongs to the second category, though there are notable 
exceptions: the scherzolike Rondo capricdoso; the E minor Prelude 
and Fugue, with its Bachian dynamics; the ingeniously devised and 
hauntingly lovely Variations serieuses, and a very few of the Lieder 
ohm Worte. The piano did not often evoke Mendelssohn's happiest 
inspirations, nor did he treat it with the sure mastery he possessed 
over the orchestra. It seems that in writing most of the Lieder ohne 
Worte he was enslaved by sentimental moods that dulled his critical 
sense. Their indisputable originality as brief statements of mood is 
apt to be overlooked nowadays, mainly because as sheer music 
they are overshadowed by so many later romantic piano pieces of 
similarly intimate character. 

It is fair, however, to judge Mendelssohn on the basis of his best 
orchestral works. The man who wrote the "Italian" and "Scotch" 
Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the overture and incidental 
music to A Midsummer Might's Dream, and the "Hebrides" and 
Ruy Bias Overtures need have no fear for his laurels. He was 
not, like Mozart or Schubert, a composer of the happiest inspira- 
tions, or like Beethoven, a musical thinker of the most profound 
order. Nor did he, for all his understanding love of Bach and 
Handel, scale the heavens. No, Mendelssohn was of a smaller 
order all around, but with enough discipline and scope to escape 
being a petit maitre. A flawless master of the technique of his art, he 
succeeded in pouring the new wine of romanticism into the old 
classical bottles. And though his vintage is never quite heady 
enough, it sparkles, warms without intoxicating, and exhales a 
rare bouquet. 

Chapter XII 

Robert Schumann 

(Zwickau, June 8, i8io-July 29, 1856, Endenich) 

We all have a deep regard for Schumann; but it is really not in 
human nature to refrain from occasional!)) making it dear that 
he was greater as a musical enthusiast than as a constructive 
musician. George Bernard Shaw: Music in London. 

KJBERT SCHUMANN is the central figure in the musical romanti- 
cism of the nineteenth century. He first attracted the attention 
of Europe as a revolutionary critic. Long before he was able to get 
a hearing for his own radical compositions, he had published a 
rhapsodic welcome to Chopin he called the article "Hats Off, 
Gentlemen, a Genius!" Almost a quarter of a century later, in his 
last published utterance, he saluted a struggling nobody by the 
name of Johannes Brahms. He was the untiring prophet of the 
romantic ideal in music. 

Heredity accounts for much in Schumann's life; its pattern was 
set before he was born. His father's health was chronically bad 
before marriage, and became progressively worse after it. His 
mother was gloomy and morose, sparing of affection, and morbidly 
conventional. His sister Emilie, whom his first biographer, Von 
Wasielewski, described with unconscious humor as the victim "of 
an uncurable melancholy, which gave unmistakable signs of quiet 
madness," drowned herself at the age of twenty. His three brothers 
died young. His own mental instability manifested itself as early 
as his twenty-third year. 

Schumann's heredity was bad enough; growing up in the un- 
healthy jungles of German romanticism made its tragic outcome 
inevitable. Brought into the world during the Sturm und Drang of 
Napoleon's struggle for world dominion his birthplace was near 
the principal theater of the war Schumann grew up under the 
influence of a gifted but immoderate father. August Schumann 
was cultivated, fervid, and obscure a publisher, journalist, and 
novelist, and a translator of Byron, In short, a stock romantic 
figure. He lived in a kind of creative rage, and once confessed that 



reading Young's Night Thoughts had brought him "near madness" 
in his youth, though this was obviously literary affectation: his 
reason was not affected. 

Schumann's first eighteen years were passed in Zwickau, where 
he received a conventional schooling and was graduated credit- 
ably from the Gymnasium. He began to play the piano and to 
compose in his sixth year,, and in his eleventh was directing the 
school band. Throughout Europe everyone was earnestly playing 
piano duets, and he was no exception. With the local bandmaster's 
son, he raced through arrangements of Beethoven's symphonies 
and pieces by Haydn, Mozart, Weber, Hummel, and Czerny to 
such effect that August Schumann presented his twelve-year-old 
son with a grand piano. Now the lad reveled more than ever in the 
piano music available in a stodgy provincial town, while at the 
home of the prosperous Garus family he heard the best chamber 
music. His father did not doubt Robert's ability, and solicited the 
powerful but still accessible Weber to superintend the boy's musi- 
cal education. Although Weber was amiable, for some reason the 
plan fell through. 

August Schumann's death in 1826 was doubly unfortunate, for it 
occurred just as he was planning to send Robert to better teachers 
than Zwickau afforded, and it left the boy in the hands of his 
unimaginative and straitlaced mother. Under her chilling in- 
fluence his musical ambitions temporarily waned. At this time he 
did everything carelessly, vaguely, without plan: he wrote fugitive 
verses, took long walks, and read Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, the 
most overwrought of German litterateurs. He acted, that is, like a 
typical adolescent of this improbable pre-i830 period. 

It was this moonstruck dreamer whom Johanna Schumann now 
decided to force into the legal profession. Accordingly, in March, 
1828, he matriculated, studiosus juris, at the University of Leipzig. 
Henceforth his life was to be devoted to music. 

For, with scarcely a perfunctory bow to the study of law, Schu- 
mann returned to his versifying and piano playing. Professor 
Carus had also removed to Leipzig; at his home Schumann met, 
among other celebrities, Friedrich Wieck, whose knowledge of 
music and musical technique was boundless. Contact with this gifted 
pedagogue revived the lad's musical ambitions. He formally en- 
rolled as Wieck's pupil. This association was, from the beginning, 


not entirely happy. Schumann could have little fault to find with 
the teaching that had produced, in Wieck's nine-year-old daughter 
Clara, the most noted child prodigy in Europe, and there is no 
doubt that he struggled to master the difficulties of pianism. But he 
infuriated his farsighted teacher by neglecting theory. Also, he 
practiced when he wished, therefore unsystematically, and, as a 
substitute for more formal studies, read the scores of the best music 
of all periods. He also took part in chamber ensembles, and began 
to study the music of Schubert, at the news of whose death, on 
November 19, 1828, he burst into tears. 

The favorite reading of this despiser of theory was The Well- 
Tempered Clavichord. He admired Bach intensely, and was among 
the first to recognize the "mysterious depth of sentiment" behind 
the contrapuntal miracles. But unfortunately, Bach and Jean Paul 
happened to have been born on March 21, and the coincidence 
was to place Schumann in an absurd position. On that day, in 1 850, 
in a public speech, he invoked them together as "the immortal 
rulers of music and poetry." When someone objected to this 
grotesque bracketing, he left the hall in a rage. 

Wieck suddenly dismissed Schumann, ostensibly because he had 
no time for teaching, but more probably because the boy*s sporadic 
enthusiasms irritated him. Schumann decided to leave Leipzig for 
Heidelberg. In that most romantic of Rhenish towns, his life was 
easy and attractive, but he soon missed Wieck's instruction, and 
began a three-cornered negotiation with his mother and his 
teacher, begging to be allowed to return to Wieck. Although he 
had glimpsed some of the "majesty of jurisprudence" at Heidel- 
berg, he longed for music as some men long for a mistress, and now 
decided to abandon the law forever. Fortunately, Wieck had faith 
in his potentialities as a pianist, and eventually told the skeptical 
mother that in three years he would make her son a great virtuoso, 
the peer of Moscheles and Hummel. Johanna Schumann con- 

Schumann interrupted his stay in Heidelberg with a trip to 
Italy in the autumn of 1829. He spoke enthusiastically of Pasta, the 
soprano for whom Bellini wrote Jiorma and La Sonnambula^ but this 
was almost his only reference to the artistic opulence of the South, 
though his letters palpitate with the business of passing sentimental 
attachments. He did not return empty-handed to Leipzig, for in 


Heidelberg he had composed parts of the Papillons, still, unde- 
servedly, among the most popular of his compositions. The 
quality of these rather banal pieces recalls some of Schubert's 
waltzes, though they are much less graceful. Their basic unity, 
despite much that has been said and written about it, may still be 
considered the composer's secret; relating them to a masked ball in 
Jean Paul's Flegeljahre> as Schumann did, is now a task for the 
musical archeologist. Nor was he successful in his last-minute at- 
tempt to unify the Papillons by ending it with two of the pieces 
combined contrapuntally. 

Back in Leipzig, Schumann took up his residence in the house 
where Wieck lodged. The prospect of becoming as brilliant as 
Moscheles, whose playing had dazzled him as a small boy, 
spurred him on to fantastic efforts. He even invented a device for 
keeping the fourth finger of his right hand inactive while he prac- 
ticed, evidently hoping that this curious procedure would over- 
come the laws of nature, and make the fourth finger as strong as 
the others. To his horror, the favored finger tended to retain this 
artificial position when free. Despite the most elaborate and ex- 
pensive treatment, the disability persisted, and he was forced to 
renounce the alluring career of a concert artist. 

Schumann turned to composition and theory as a solace, finding 
in Heinrich Dorn later famous for his supposed antagonism to 
Wagner a welcome successor to the sometimes irascible Wieck. 
Late in 1832, he conducted part of a G minor symphony at 
Zwickau. His townspeople received the fragment coldly, though 
Schumann said that the same piece won him "many friends among 
the greatest musical connoisseurs' 5 when repeated at Leipzig the 
following June. He was not discouraged by the public's reaction, 
and worked unceasingly at various compositions, especially the 
Studien nach Caprwen von Paganini, which he erroneously believed to 
prove his command of theory. In the midst of this activity, he lost 
his sister-in-law Rosalie, whom he loved deeply, and this shock 
precipitated the first overt symptoms of his mental instability. It is 
even said that during the night of October 17, 1833, the distracted 
man tried to throw himself from the fourth floor of his lodgings. 
We know for a certainty that from this time on he always insisted 
on ground-floor rooms. 

Then suddenly, abruptly, everything was changed. Schumann 


began to become conscious of another side of his own romantic 
nature. He fell in love not once, but twice. Clara Wieck was 
growing up, and noticing this, he began, almost insensibly, to feel 
toward her something more than the easy affection of an elder 
brother. Of course, she was only fifteen, and yet, when she left 
Leipzig to study, he felt lost. The habit of love was upon him, and 
he could not shake it off. Among Wieck's pupils was Ernestine von 
Fricken, "physically luxuriant, emotionally strongly developed, 
and intellectually insignificant." A girl with these qualifications 
might well appeal to any man, but Schumann had to romanticize 
her into a sort of Madonna with a milk-white soul. He even 
thought for a time of marrying her. 

But this hectic interlude was a substitution gesture. Clara's 
image persisted, and Schumann learned that Ernestine had de- 
ceived him about her social status. She was not the rich daughter 
of Baron von Fricken, but his bastard, and poor. The double draw- 
back was too much. Instead of his daughter, Schumann took from 
the baron a theme in C sharp minor, on which he wrote his varia- 
tions known as the Etudes symphoniques. 

Artistically, too, 1834 was one of great activity for Schumann: 
he composed the Etudes symphoniques and began the CarnavaL With 
a group of friends, he founded the New ^eitschrift fur Musik, and 
overnight became the most advanced music critic in Europe. 

Twenty years later, when the night of madness was closing in 
on Schumann, his last accomplished work was the preface to a 
selection from his critical writings, many of which had appeared in 
the ZjAtschrift. In this salute to the past, the tiring mind was mo- 
mentarily refreshed, and less than two months before the doors 
of a madhouse shut behind him, he re-created with unsullied 
freshness the ardent youth of the idealistic thirties. 

"At the close of the year 1833," he wrote, "a number of musi- 
cians, mostly young men, went together every evening in Leipzig, 
apparently by mere chance and for social intercourse, but no less 
for an exchange of ideas in regard to the art which was their meat 
and drink music. It cannot be said that the musical condition of 
Germany at that time was very satisfactory. On the stage Rossini 
still flourished, while Herz and Hiinten held almost exclusive 
sway on the piano. And yet but a few years had passed since Bee- 
thoven, Carl Maria von Weber, and Franz Schubert were in our 


midst. Mendelssohn's star was indeed in the ascendant, and won- 
derful things were rumored of a Pole named Chopin, but the 
latter excited no lasting influence till later. One day the thought 
flashed upon the young hotheads: let us not stand idly by; let us 
set to work, and strive to improve matters, so that the poetry of 
Art may once more be held in honor. Thus arose the first pages of 
a new journal." 

The %eitschrift confirmed the growing fame of Schubert and Men- 
delssohn, helped to found that of Chopin and Robert Franz, and 
introduced the names of Berlioz and Brahms. Its contributors in- 
cluded, besides Schumann himself, Wieck, Wagner, Dorn, and 
many others whose names were hidden under the fantastic noms de 
guerre Schumann invented for them. The publication of the %dt- 
schrift, important though it was, constituted in Schumann's eyes 
only one of the activities of the Davidsbundler, "an association," he 
said, "existing only in the imagination, whose members are recog- 
nizable less by outward signs than by inward resemblance. It will 
be their endeavor, by word and by deed, to dam up the tide of 

The Carnaval, completed in 1835, was the most comprehensive 
musical expression of the Davidsbundler. It is based on four notes: 
A, S (E flat in German notation), C, and H (B natural). These 
notes had a double significance for the composer: they represent 
the only musical letters in SCHumAnn, and ASCH, the Bohemian 
home of Ernestine von Fricken. In sending a copy of the Garnaml 
to Moscheles after its publication in 1837, Schumann wrote, "To 
figure out the Masked Ball will be child's play to you; and I need 
hardly assure you that the putting together of the pieces and the 
superscriptions came about after the composition." 

Apart from its alleged literary program, the Carnaval has no 
unity, and we may interpret the letter to Moscheles as a kind of 
elaborate fake invented by Schumann to quiet his own artistic con- 
science. Like the Papittons, the Carncwal suffers from a lack of or- 
ganic integration. Contemporary opinion divided sharply over its 
merits: Liszt proclaimed it one of the greatest works he knew; 
Chopin declared that it was not music. It is the most popular of 
Schumann's piano compositions despite its flaws. When all deduc- 
tions have been made, the rewards to the listener are incalculably 
rich. The pieces are tone portraits and moods limned by a sym- 


pathetic and generous musical intelligence. They range from the 
tender sentiment of Eusebius through the frenzied enthusiasm of 
Paganini to the booming heroics of the Marche des Dauidsbundler, and 
include such high pastiche as Chopin, and a waltz Lettres dansantes 
worthy to be placed with the finest of Schubert and Chopin. The 
Schumannesque quality persists throughout a note of personal 
idiosyncrasy colors the Carnaval from the Preambule to the Marche, 
all exuberant, warm, and boldly rhythmic. 

The Etudes symphomques are altogether less successful., and Schu- 
mann himself was rightly skeptical of their appeal to the public. 
Audiences received them coldly, and they had to wait for Anton 
Rubinstein, fifty years after their composition, to establish them. 
These frequently overrobust pieces are dedicated to the pallid Wil- 
liam Sterndale Bennett, the Caspar Milquetoast of English music, 
and one of Schumann's mistaken enthusiasms. The most successful 
part of the Etudes symphoniques is the grandiosely conceived finale, 
for which Schumann wisely added to Von Fricken's theme one 
from an opera by the popular romantic Heinrich Marschner. Al- 
though this suffers as much as the other parts from "too, too solid 
blocks of chords," it is, in effect, an amazingly sustained flight. 

In 1835 the musical life of Leipzig was quickened by the arrival 
of Mendelssohn to become director of the Gewandhaus concerts. 
All succumbed to his genius and charm, but the heart of Schu- 
mann went out to him ever more unreservedly. A friendship sprang 
up between them that endured, with minor frictions, until Men- 
delssohn's death. While Schumann considered Mendelssohn god- 
like both as man and artist, his hero was more reserved: he judged 
Schumann a musical dilettante, and, worse, one who wrote about 
music. He nevertheless performed many of Schumann's orchestral 
works brilliantly, and so did Mm an invaluable service. 
^Schumann's love for Clara Wieck was growing constantly (as 
was hers for him), and about the beginning of 1836 he determined 
to marry her. Four years earlier, Johanna Schumann had been 
won by the girl's charming manner, and had said, "Some day you 
must marry Robert/' but at that time neither Robert nor Clara 
had taken his mother's words seriously. His final break with Er- 
nestine von Fricken occurred in January, 1836, and his mother's 
death the following month may have recalled her prophetic words. 
In any event, these happenings made his need for companionship 


peremptory. When Wieck saw that Clara reciprocated Schumann's 
love, he reacted violently, spitefully adducing Schumann's poverty 
and intemperance (he had spent too much money on beer and 
champagne), though, oddly enough, ignoring what would have 
been a reasonable objection his mental instability. Behind Wieck's 
attitude looms his real fear that Clara, whom he regarded as his 
creation and chattel, would be diverted from her career. He shud- 
dered to think of her "with the perambulator." 

At first^ Wieck's opposition was not wholly unjust, but in time 
Schumann's conduct and prospects improved so as to make the 
ostensible objections absurd. Although Clara had been packed off 
to Dresden to make her forget Schumann, that miracle did not 
happen. The lovers met during one of Wieck's absences, and Wieck, 
hearing of this, forbade Schumann all access to his house. Further, 
he told Clara that he would shoot her suitor if he persisted. There 
actually followed an eighteen-month interval during which the 
lovers were both in Leipzig, yet completely cut off from each other. 
Clara had to hold her faith in Schumann against the mendacity 
and malice of both her father and her stepmother, and the intoler- 
able situation was further complicated by the ambiguous friend- 
ship of Carl Banck, once one of the Davidsbundler. He seems to have 
misrepresented Clara to Schumann, and to have described her as 
a frivolous girl with no capacity for true love. 

On August 13, 1837, Clara gave a concert at Leipzig, and on the 
program was an F minor sonata that Schumann had dedicated to 
her the year before. He described it as his heart's cry for her, and 
Clara caught the message, for she wrote, "Did you not think that I 
played it because I knew no other way of showing something of 
my inmost heart 9 I could not do it in secret, so I did it in public." 
The lovers managed to communicate with each other, and on the 
following day became formally betrothed. They agreed that on 
Clara's eighteenth birthday Schumann should again write to her 
father. The letter, with its dignified statement of the composer's 
position and prospects, evoked an unsatisfactory reply, and Schu- 
mann's interview with Wieck some days later was violent in tone 
and discouraging in outlook. Schumann and Clara decided to re- 
sort to law if, at the end of two years more, her father still withheld 
his consent. 

Wieck's next move was to take Clara on a highly successful con- 


cert tour to Prague and Vienna, which kept her away until the 
following May. She met her great rivals, Liszt and Thalberg, in 
Vienna, and was feted in a manner that might have turned a less 
level head. But not Clara's even though Liszt, in his eagerness to 
meet her, threw his calling card in at the window. Her letters to 
Schumann continued, and though both these and his answers re- 
flected passing doubts, their love endured, and on her return to 
Leipzig they were able to meet with considerable freedom despite 
Wieck's obduracy. They decided to marry in 1840, come what 

One thing was certain: Clara would come to Schumann without 
a dowry. This situation, then very unusual, was so heightened by 
Wieck's contempt for Schumann as a man of affairs (only a go- 
getter like himself would have pleased him) that the composer con- 
cluded that he himself must provide a dowry. His modest income 
suited a bachelor who knew where to borrow money, but not the 
husband of Clara Wieck. His only asset with possibilities of rapid 
increase was the Zjeitschrift, but he felt that its location in Leipzig 
was against it. He had always wanted to visit Vienna, which he 
believed to be a city of music lovers, and the idea of moving the 
Zjdtschrift there gave him a good excuse. 

And when he saw Vienna in the autumn of 1838, he was in- 
clined to like it. His spirits soared when he found a pen on Beetho- 
ven's grave and received the great C major Symphony from the 
hands of Schubert's brother. He met Liszt and Thalberg, and saw 
Taglioni dance, but soon realized that Vienna, under crazy Fer- 
dinand I, was not the place for the ^eitschnft. Far from worship- 
ing at the shrines of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, the Vien- 
nese were concerned with the politics of petty cliques. The strict 
censorship would have made the liberal ^eitschrift unwelcome there, 
wHle the lack of a central musical authority like Mendelssohn's at 
Leipzig seemed to Schumann an even more serious drawback. 

Early in 1839, news of Ms brother Eduard's serious illness re- 
called Schumann to Leipzig. While he was en route, according to 
a letter he wrote Clara, CC I heard a whole choral of trumpets he 
died just at that time. . . ." Clara, of course, could not see (as we 
can) that this "choral of trumpets" was the first of the auditory 
hallucinations that were to attend the disintegration of Schumann's 


Clara was not in Leipzig to comfort him, for in January she had 
set out for Paris. Wieck, for the first time, did not accompany her: 
he wanted her to realize the discomforts involved in securing con- 
certs without his help. If he expected, in this tortuous way, to 
prove his indispensability, he had misjudged his daughter. Vexa- 
tion there was, but more for him than for Clara; the French tour 
was a measured success. She met Heine, dined with Meyerbeer, 
and founded many lasting friendships. Yet she was far from happy, 
for her father's letters were persecutional, her lover's often re- 
proachful and doubting. Back in Leipzig, she united with Schu- 
mann in one more friendly attempt to gain Wieck's consent to 
their marriage she was still not yet of age. They finally had to go 
to law. Wieck barred his doors to his famous daughter, and went 
so far as to endanger her career and Schumann's by slander. The 
case dragged on until his objections were reduced to one intem- 
perance and that had to be proved within six weeks. Schumann 
was vindicated, Mendelssohn, among others, being ready to testify 
for him. Almost simultaneously, the University of Jena gave him 
an honorary doctorate. Wieck then withdrew his formal opposi- 

Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck were married on Septem- 
ber 12, 1840. 

"Truly, from the contests Clara cost me, much music has been 
caused and conceived," Schumann wrote to Dorn. And even 
though it seems likely that these "contests" hastened the progress 
of Schumann's mental trouble, the fact remains that the stormy 
years of the courtship did bring forth his most ambitious contribu- 
tions to piano literature, including Die Davidsbundlertanze, the Fan- 
tasiestucke, the Kinderscenen, the Krdsleriana, and the C major Fanta- 
sie. Of his best works for piano alone, only one the Album fur die 
Jugend was composed after his marriage, and that because he had 
become a family man, and wrote these pieces for his own children. 

Despite the popularity of the Papillons and the Carnaval, the es- 
sence of Schumann as a composer for the piano is in the best pages 
of the Fantasiestucke and the Kreisleriana. With what James Huneker 
preached as "the greater Chopin," they are romantic piano music 
at its finest until the advent of Brahms. Chopin has intense Slavic 
passion, Gallic edge, poignant if sometimes saccharine lyricism; 
Schumann is drenched with Teutonic qualities: broad sentiment, 


Evdy humor, domestic charm. He translates the "poetry of every- 
day life" into music. To the transparent sweetness and naivete of 
Schubert he adds an intense psychological preoccupation. 

Few people nowadays care to listen to the Fantasiestucke or the 
Kind&rscenen in their entirety. Schumann himself thought them too 
long for public performance, and often spoke of individual pieces 
as complete in themselves. Furthermore, he favored some against 
others, Even the most prejudiced classicist or modernist must sur- 
render to the passionate sweep of In der Nacht or the warm humor 
of Grillen: in these, as in other short pieces and in sections of the 
Krdsleriam, Schumann speaks to us most intimately and persua- 
sively. In the faded pages of the Kinderscenen, the intimate note 
persists, but the unrelieved Gemuthlichkdt is unbearable, rising to 
irritating pitch in the hackneyed Trdumerei. The trouble with the 
Traumerei is not that it is hackneyed (so are Beethoven's Fifth and 
"HandeFs Largo"), but that it is spineless and cloying. 

Schumann intended the C major Fantasie as his contribution 
toward the raising of funds for a Beethoven memorial, which may 
explain its unusually large proportions. It contains many fine pages, 
but lacks architecture. It is full of typically Schumannesque epi- 
grams, delightful in themselves, but out of place in so extended a 
composition. But Schumann's lasting fame as a composer depends 
neither on the Fantasie nor on the sonatas, which are resurrected 
rarely and even then too often. 

Just as his courtship of Clara evoked Schumann's finest piano 
works, so, in the year of his marriage, it brought forth almost all 
his great songs. It was as though he suddenly needed a more per- 
sonal idiom than the piano, and so went to the poetry of Heine, 
Von Chamisso, and other poets and poetasters for the sentiments 
germane to his love. Among these verses he found much drivel, 
some of which he set as fastidiously as the real poetry. However, 
the emotional range of these magnificent song sequences makes 
them a glorious epithalamium for Clara. 

In Schumann's hands, the accompaniment of the lied achieves 
equal sometimes more than equal status with the voice, and the 
meaning of the lyric dictates the entire shaping of the music. But 
lie often approached the lied too pianistically, treating the human 
voice as though it possessed the flexibility and range of a keyboard. 
For this reason, some of his songs are best sung by a phenomenal 


mezzo-soprano or baritone. The accompaniments are always rich 
and varied, frequently of great harmonic interest. The excellent 
English musicologist, Francis Toye, has even said that "a little gem 
like the piano-epilogue to the Dickterliebe, so satisfying, so exactly 
right, remains, perhaps, the most striking attribute of Schumann's 
as a song-writer!" 

The songs range from a great dramatic narrative like Die beiden 
Grenadiere to Erstes Grun, a trifle packed with almost insupportable 
poignancy, and include such radiations of pure genius as Der Nuss- 
baum, Ich grolle nicht, Die Lotusblume, Widmung, and others less fa- 
miliar but no less masterly. In his greatest lieder, Schumann 
achieved a melodic line which, if not so spontaneous as Schubert's, 
has a deeper and more intellectual configuration. In them, as in 
the Carnaval and the Fantasiestucke, the psychological closeness is 
startling. Not only does the music match the words with exquisite 
sensitivity, but it has profound overtones not to be echoed until 
the days of Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss. 

Schumann's life as a composer was divided into periods by abrupt 
changes of interest. He had abandoned the piano for the lied; now 
he began to write for orchestra. As early as 1839 he had written 
to Dorn: "I often feel tempted to crush my piano; it's too narrow 
for my thoughts. I really have very little practice in orchestral 
music now; still I hope to master it." In his past was the fragment 
of a G minor symphony that had met with such meager success 
that he never completed it. During the nine years between its per- 
formance and the writing of the B flat major ("Spring") Sym- 
phony in 1841, he had probably yearned more than once to com- 
pose in this larger form. The "Spring" Symphony not unnaturally 
exhibits traces of a fine frenzy (at least for two movements, after 
which it collapses). It was outlined at the piano in four days, the 
orchestration followed at once, and it was performed less than 
two months later at a Gewandhaus concert, with Mendelssohn 
conducting. The parts baffled the musicians, who were hostile to 
the work and not without reason, for Schumann often wrote awk- 
wardly for instruments other than the piano. 

Nevertheless, this ambitious flight established Schumann as a 
"serious 5 ' composer. Mendelssohn had lavished great care on the 
performance, and Schumann could write with pardonable exag- 
geration that it had been "received as no other since Beethoven." 


Its respectable success spurred him on, and shortly afterward he 
composed the D minor Symphony. This prematurely Tchaikov- 
skyan work failed to catch the public, and was completely revised 
ten years later. Wagner heard Liszt and an accomplice play a four- 
hand arrangement of this revision, and pronounced it banal to 
the distress of Liszt, who was trying to promote cordial relations 
between Wagner and Schumann. 

Musicographers have justifiably called 1842 Schumann's cham- 
ber-music year, for the best of his chamber works belong to it. The 
Piano Quintet, one of the happiest of his inspirations, was greeted 
effusively by Mendelssohn, usually positively stingy with praise. It 
is, indeed, the most sustainedly great chamber writing between 
Beethoven and Brahms, and remains a favorite with audiences. 
Lush in harmony and richly varied in theme, this romantic mas- 
terpiece has a remarkable immediacy of appeal. Here, as in only 
one other extended composition, Schumann's touch is mysteri- 
ously sure: he had found the form his material demanded. The 
string quartets were much less successful, and only the Piano Quar- 
tet shows something of the genius that shaped the Quintet. 

It is little wonder that this debauch of composition in new forms 
brought on what Schumann called "nerve exhaustion": in three 
years he had composed thirty of the 148 works published with opus 
numbers. His appointment, the following year, to teach piano and 
composition at the newly founded Leipzig conservatory brought 
distraction from his labors, as well as needed source of income. 
(His family was growing; the second of his eight children was born 
in 1843.) Mendelssohn had been named head of the conservatory, 
and Schumann looked forward eagerly to his work there. But he 
was an impossible teacher shy, taciturn, and erratic; his failure 
to create a rapport with his students sprang from the same cause as 
Ms failure as a conductor: his obliviousness to everything except 
what was going on in his own head. He remained on the staff little 
more than a year, and then suffered a complete nervous break- 

Schumann's teaching was interrupted when he went with Clara 
on a tour through Russia, and by the composition of Die Paradies 
und die Peri, an intolerably dull and sugary business for chorus and 
orchestra based on the second part of Thomas Moore's fake-Ori- 
ental epic, Lalla Rookh according to Schumann "one of the sweet- 


est flowers of English verse." This work had some scant success in 
Germany, but nowhere else, for it exemplifies most of Schumann's 
faults and his uncertain taste. The Russian tour was a financial 
success for Clara, and Schumann was welcomed as the champion 
of romanticism. But he did not improve in health, and reacted 
petulantly to Clara's enormous fame and popularity. 

There has been a conspiracy among the Schumann^ right- 
thinking biographers to agree uniformly that their marriage was 
an unqualified success. Such, however, was by no means the case. 
Clara frequently suffered from not being able to practice for fear 
of disturbing Schumann in the throes of creation, and from not 
being able to tour because he disliked her being away. He never 
reconciled himself to the anomaly of the composer being less popu- 
lar than the performer. His wife stood with liszt and Thalberg on 
the dizziest heights of pianistic fame, and it quite naturally irked 
him to be referred to as "Clara Schumann's husband. 5 * Clara saw 
it as her duty to act as a buffer between Schumann and the out- 
side world, and there is no doubt that she did that duty with high- 
minded and deadly efficiency. But Schumann, instead of a buf- 
fer, needed a bridge to reality. Already, for lack of free contact 
with outsiders, he was peopling his own private world with phan- 
tasms which, as time went on, became increasingly evil. 

There can be no doubt that from an exclusively romantic point 
of view Schumann's marriage was successful. The idea that it was 
conducive to either his artistic or mental well-being belongs to the 
world of fable. 

On his return from Russia, Schumann gave way to the most 
ominous melancholy, and for a time wavered perilously near to 
insanity. He gave up all connection with the Zjdtschrift, and re- 
signed from the conservatory. His despair when Mendelssohn en- 
trusted the Gewandhaus directorship to Gade was not relaxed by 
his exaggerated respect for the Dane (he called one of Gade's 
cantatas "the most important composition of our modern times") . 
His moroseness over this slight may well have been aggravated by 
some realization of his own inadequacy as a conductor. Clara says 
that "he gave himself up for lost." The waters of Carlsbad did not, 
and could not, help him: he was suffering from an osseous growth 
that exerted increasing pressure on his brain, though this fact was 
not revealed until a post-mortem examination. It was agreed that 


only a complete change of scene could save him. Accordingly, in 
October, 1844, the Schumanns removed to Dresden. 

At first, Schumann lived in complete seclusion, but gradually the 
ease and gaiety of Dresden life drew him from his solitude, and he 
began to meet many artists and musicians. Wagner, then Kapell- 
meister at the court theater, had not yet achieved his characteristic 
style, and Schumann therefore found something good to say of his 
work. However, he was not carried away by Wagner at any time, 
and years later wrote of him: "He is, to express myself briefly, not 
a good musician; he has no understanding for form and euphony. 
. . . The music apart from the representation is poor, often quite 
amateurish, empty, and repellent. . . ." Much more uniformly 
genial was Schumann's association with Ferdinand Hiller, until he 
went to Dusseldorf a leader of Dresden musical society. Hiller, a 
musical handyman in the noblest tradition, proved a loyal and 
admiring friend, always ready to use his strategic position to help 
his unworldly friend. 

Schumann's health varied, but generally it seemed improved. 
Not so the state of his mind. By this time even a semblance of calm 
on Ms part depended on the course of his life running without a 
single hitch. Unfortunately, he lost an infant son in 1847, an ^ two 
years later his last remaining brother died. Mendelssohn's death, 
also in 1847, affected him even more intensely, for Schumann's 
admiration of him had been tinged with an almost religious awe. 
His old torments now returned increased. He suffered from lapses 
of memory; he heard premonitory voices; he fell easily into melan- 
choly and despair, and his temporary recoveries became more and 
more laborious. Yet he kept on composing indomitably, though 
many of the works completed in Dresden show evident signs of 
waning power and growing mental confusion. The most important 
compositions of this period are Genoveva, the Album fur die Jugend, 
the Piano Concerto, and Manfred. 

Gmoveva is a musical curiosity, important only as Schumann's 
single opera. "Do you know what is my morning and evening 
prayer as an artist? 5 * he had asked. "German opera." Yet he selected 
the legend of Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, for his libretto. 
Unfortunately, Genevieve had none of those loose moments that 
made St. Thais a suitable operatic subject. Furthermore, Schu- 
mann, in rewriting the libretto, took away from her the few dra- 


matic qualities she possessed. Wagner, with real friendliness, tried 
vainly to point out what was wrong. When the opera was first per- 
formed at Leipzig, with the composer conducting, the consensus 
was that he had no dramatic gift. The single important dissenter 
seems to have been Spohr, who mistakenly supposed that Genoveva 
carried out his own operatic theories. Schumann, however, was 
heartened by the polite applause of critics and audience. He did 
not realize that opera was decidedly outside the range of his gifts, 
and that of Genoveva only the overture, which has some good mo- 
ments, would survive. 

The much finer Manfred music has likewise vanished from the 
stage, largely because Byron had neglected to make his poem 
stageable. The overture, however, is sure to last: the music, though 
unrelievedly somber, is passionate and dramatic; the harmonies 
are gorgeous and yet subtle, and the whole atmosphere is quintes- 
sentially romantic. It is, beyond question, the most successful of 
Schumann's works for orchestra alone. With superb tactlessness, he 
planned to dedicate his setting of Byron to Queen Victoria. For- 
tunately for both parties, this plan fell through. 

The Piano Concerto, dedicated to Hiller, and possibly the best 
known in the standard repertoire, was first performed by Clara. 
It was for her an occasion of the greatest rejoicing: she had always 
wanted a "large bravura piece" from her husband. When the 
Concerto was performed in Leipzig, the Gewandhaus patrons (then 
the most enlightened on the Continent) were already thoroughly 
acquainted with Schumann's ideas, but it took this definitive ex- 
pression of them to evoke the Leipzigers 5 unqualified enthusiasm, 
The Piano Concerto offered them an experience for whose equal 
they had to reach back to Beethoven. The opening allegro, which 
had had an independent existence since 1841 as a fantasia for 
piano and orchestra, is unstintedly opulent in melody, and rises to 
moments of sheer rhapsody. Its cadenza, far from interrupting the 
mood of the whole movement, sustains it which makes it a rarity 
among piano cadenzas. The intermezzo is more restrained and 
contemplative, and the marvelously varied rhythms of the finale 
mount and mingle in a paean of unrestrained joy. These elements 
combine to produce, in the A minor Concerto, the sovereign ges- 
ture of musical romanticism. 

The Album fur die Jugend, a collection of forty-three brief pieces, 


is often misleadingly bracketed with the Kinderscenen, on the grounds 
that both are music of childhood. The Kmderscenen, composed ten 
years earlier, is a grown man's reverie of his own childhood; the 
Album is actually for children sharp little pictures that might ap- 
peal to any child. In view of Schumann's mental torments, their 
marked darity of outline is baffling. They are no more than 
charming trifles, but are important as the ancestors of thousands 
of repulsive Httle pieces those "Dolly's Lullabies" and "Birdie's 
Boatsongs" that are the staples of the musical kindergarten. 

Schumann continued to compose for the piano, but without his 
name on them those earnest marches, fugues, and Albumbldtter 
would never have found homes even in music libraries. But once 
more, and inexplicably, he produced a masterpiece for the piano 
one unlike anything he had done before. Vogel als Prophet, from the 
Waldscenm, is an enigma, with all the magical quality and strange 
beauties of a changeling. Years later, Claude Debussy heard the 
same faery note, and musical impressionism was born. 

By the middle of 1850 the Schumanns were thoroughly dissatis- 
fied with Dresden, where the composer^ talents went unrecognized 
by court, artists, and public at large. When Wagner lost his post as 
Kapellmeister because of his part in the revolutionary outbreaks of 
1848-9, Schumann was passed over in choosing his successor. He 
abandoned aU hope of securing a good musical position in Dres- 
den. Happily, however, the directorship of the Diisseldorf Ge- 
sangverein fell vacant when HiHer left to become town musician 
at Cologne, Before leaving Diisseldorf, he recommended Schu- 
mann for this honorable enough post, which carried an annual 
stipend of seven hundred thaler. Schumann hesitated (he still 
hoped for bigger things at Vienna or Berlin) , but by August it was 
clear that Diisseldorf was the best he could expect, and he accepted 
Killer's proposal. 

After a rosy beginning., Schumann got on badly with the Diis- 
seldorfers. His conducting rapidly became notorious. He was in- 
competent, so lost in a dreamworld of his own that he could not 
even beat time accurately. Of course, the subtleties of conducting 
those attributes of a truly great conductor were entirely beyond 
Mm. On one occasion he went on automatically waving his baton 
after a composition was finished. Another time, a member of the 
Gesangverein complained to Qara of Schumann's apathetic gen- 


tleness. The more Intelligent Diisseldorfers, who had expected a 
bold and valiant David$bundler y were overtly disappointed in the 
taciturn and antisocial composer, whose actions at the conductor's 
desk seemed to insult their musical sophistication. The bickering 
between Schumann and his committeemen is at once tragic and 
comic, and is given a satiric twist by the good burghers* natural 
desire to get their money's worth. Although most of the time only 
so in name, Schumann remained director of the Gesangverein 
until the autumn of 1853. 

Of almost fifty works composed during the Diisseldorf period, 
only one, the E flat major ("Rhenish") Symphony, is still much 
played. What charm it has reflects Schumann's very warm feeling 
toward his new home. But its interminable length it is five move- 
ments long is too sparsely populated with good things, and its 
windy transitions show Schumann's self-criticism working less than 
ever. It is hard to judge the Faust music, written over a period of 
years, and completed in Diisseldorf, for it is never performed. As 
it is possible to hear any number of respectable but uninspired 
cantatas every few years, the complete silence of Schumann's Faust 
tells an eloquent tale in a novelty-hungry world. Not a bar of this 
music is available in recordings. And though the learned Dr. 
Philipp Spitta avers that "up to the latter half of the last chorus 
it is a chain of musical gems, a perfectly unique contribution to 
concert literature,*' the elaborate score looks far from promising. 

The Dusseldorf compositions reveal one thing all too clearly: 
the drying up of Schumann's inspiration. They show, instead of 
profound conviction, a pedantic, classicizing tendency and a tech- 
nical facility not at all characteristic of his best efforts. Many of 
them are choral, and are as empty and sentimental as the verses 
to which they were written. 

Meanwhile, shadows were falling more deeply on Schumann's 
mind. Years before, he had heard ghostly voices, but only at rare 
intervals. Now these auditory sensations multiplied and became 
painful, though it was not until the beginning of 1854 that the 
process of disintegration became so manifest that Clara, who had 
been very reluctant to admit that her husband was anything more 
than moody, became alarmed for his sanity. Fortunately for her, 
Brahms had appeared in September, 1853, and both the Schu- 
manns were won over by the young viking with his massive blond 


mane and awkward, unaffected manner. Schumann roused him- 
self long enough to greet Brahms with the ardor of youth. And 
now, in his desire to help this young man, whose genius he at once 
recognized, and whom he rather pathetically saw as someone "sent 
by God" to carry on his own work, be bethought himself of the 
%dtschrift. It had passed into the hands of Franz Brendel, who was 
wholeheartedly devoted to the Neo-German school of Wagner and 
Liszt, and therefore unalterably opposed to Schumann. However, 
he sent Brendel a high-flown but prophetic article on Brahms, and 
the editor felt obliged to print this last message from the magazine's 
illustrious founder. 

^Respite from final darkness was granted until February, 1854, 
and these last months in Diisseldorf were gladdened for Schumann 
by the warm friendship of Brahms and Joseph Joachim, the latter 
of whom the Schumanns had met as a child more than ten years 
before. Schumann amused himself with table tapping, a frighten- 
ing symptom in one whose intelligence and understanding had, up 
to this time, been sane and firm despite his growing melancholy. 
Strangely enough, Clara did not see the significance of the new 
toy. In fact, she treated the whole situation rather lightly. And 
possibly she cannot be blamed, for Schumann after his arrival at 
Diisseldorf had been ostensibly "cured." And so he stayed, with 
some lapses, until the final stage of his malady. As late as the last 
months of 1853, k e was a ^ e to accompany Clara on a Dutch tour, 
during which he enjoyed himself. They were back in Diisseldorf 
by Christmas, and the January of 1854 passed uneventfully. 

On February 6, Schumann wrote to Joachim: "I have often 
written you with sympathetic ink, and between these lines, too, 
there is a secret writing which will afterwards be revealed. . . . 
Music is silent at present, externally at least. . . . And now I 
must close. Night is beginning to fall-" And darkness was indeed 
closing in upon him. The auditory hallucinations developed with 
alarming rapidity. He heard choirs of angels, cries of demons. The 
spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn appeared, and gave him a 
theme, which he noted down. Voices whispered. He could not 
sleep. On the twenty-fourth, he disposed of his fortune and works, 
and bade a touching farewell to Clara, now heavy with their eighth 
child. On the twenty-sixth, he left the house, walked to the Rhine, 
and threw himself in. He was brought home still alive some hours 


later by strangers who had managed to get him to shore, and the 
facts were carefully hidden from Clara in view of her pregnancy. 

On March 4, Schumann was removed at his own request to a 
sanatorium at Endenich, near Bonn. He was never to return home. 
At times a ray of light penetrated his clouded mind. He did some 
musical arrangements, and noted down quotations for his pro- 
jected Dichtergarten, which he intended to be a compendium of the 
best remarks on music from all the greatest writers. He had lucid 
intervals, during some of which Brahms was with him. But in less 
than two years all hope of his recovery was abandoned. He lin- 
gered, often in acute pain and anguish, until July 29, 1856, when 
he died in the arms of Clara, who had previously refrained from 
seeing him for fear of aggravating his condition.^ 

"I saw him in the evening, between six and seven," she wrote. 
"He smiled at me and put his arms around me with great diffi- 
culty, for he had almost lost control of his limbs. Never shall I 
forget that moment. I would not give that embrace for all the 
treasures on earth. 55 The next day he was buried in the cemetery 
at Bonn, and Clara, Hiller, Brahms, and Joachim were present at 
the ceremony. 

Schumann has been called a great music critic so often that it is 
annoying to discover that he was nothing of the sort. When, in 
183 1, he penned his first critical effusion, he was a young man with 
a small literary gift and an overwhelming enthusiasm. His critical 
method was certainly the strangest ever used: it was based exclu- 
sively on impulse. An examination of his so-called critical writings 
discloses a depressing mixture of praise for the best, the good, the 
mediocre, and the positively bad. His fame as a critic rests on the 
happy chance that he began his career by gushing over the young 
Chopin, and closed it by doing the same service for Brahms. 

Schumann was ever betrayed by his uncertain taste. Most of his 
enthusiasms were for men whose names are today as deservedly 
dead as the Herzes and Huntens he himself reprobated in the 
prologue to his collected writings. Even Meyerbeer, one of his few 
hatreds, deserved better at his hands than such mediocrities as 
Gade and Sterndale Bennett. Wagner baffled him completely, even 
though he heard nothing later than Tannhauser. Hero worship im- 


pelled him to overpraise not only the less inspired works of Men- 
delssohn, but also the trifling imitations of Mendelssohn's satellites. 

But Schumann's worst fault as a critic is that he does not criti- 
cize. He effuses, he palavers, he strikes a pose, occasionally he 
vituperates; he almost never describes or analyzes. Even when he 
is talking about a composition like Mendelssohn's St. Paul, his dis- 
course is lyric rather than critical. If by some chance every score 
of this oratorio were to be destroyed, nothing Schumann said about 
it would help us to recapture its quality. He always says, "I like" 
or "I do not like" rarely does he say anything more. 

Schumann was not a true critic of other men's music, and he 
was not a true critic of his own. He understood the piano, and his 
happiest and most characteristic pages were composed for that in- 
strument. He did not understand the special character of the 
chamber ensemble and the orchestra, and in writing for them too 
often treated them as expanded pianos. Even in the field of the 
lied, where he has few peers, he did not unfailingly give the human 
voice music best adapted to its peculiar genius. Schumann was 
fecund in musical ideas, but his way of expressing them seems often 
to have been determined by nothing more cogent than the genre 
that was his passion at the moment. 

Everything points to Schumann's inability to cope with this 
problem of musical choice. Closely allied to it is the failure of his 
attempts to project his ideas on a large scale. His material is in- 
tensely subjective, and is suited just to those short pieces and 
passages which, in fact, represent him at his best. He lacked that 
sense of large design which would have enabled him successfully 
to relate several of these fragments in a symphony or sonata. There 
is much sound wisdom in Bernard Shaw's wisecrack about the 
desirability of boiling down all the Schumann symphonies into a 
potpourri called "Gems from Schumann." There are many mo- 
ments of great harmomc > rhythmic, and melodic beauty in his 
larger compositions, but his way of stringing unrelated fragments 
together does not make for that feeling of inevitability that is the 
hallmark of the greatest music. Bu,t a of course, Schumann was not 
one of the greatest composers. 

Schumann's position is, rather, a high one among masters of the 
second rank. A few of his works are sure to survive the Quintet,, 
the Piano Concerto, the overture to Manfred? the best of his songs 


and piano pieces. In them his peculiar genius is at its flood in the 
daring rhythms, the somber-textured harmonies, the melodies that 
distill their essence in bittersweet epigrams. These are not the 
utterances of a god. Schumann's special magic is his disturbing 
nearness to us. And he is most disturbing because, once heard, he 
can never be forgotten. He is the voice of romance. 

Chapter XIII 

Frederic-Francois Chopin 

(Zelazowa-Wola, February 22, 1810 
October ij, 1849, Paris) 

THERE are still many people who persist in thinking of Chopin 
as a more or less inspired dilettante and cvoker of small musical 
moods. Yet, he was the most truly original of all composers.* He 
arrived almost immediately at a personal idiom that is absolutely 
unmistakable an original style so pervasive that a fragmentary 
bar or two will serve to identify a composition as his. With a rare 
sense of what kingdom he could make his own,, he chose to write 
music for the piano. He never composed an opera or an oratorio, 
never a symphony, never even a string quartet. These large forms 
he left to others, and cultivated his own garden. He worked in a 
dozen or more forms, several of them of his own creation. He is the 
composer par excellence of inexhaustible variety in infinite detail. 
Nor, except when he tried to force his idiosyncratic poetry into 
some larger classical form, did his Flaubertian feeling for the mu- 
sical mot juste interfere with his respect for the architecture of a 
composition as an entity. 

Chopin has never lacked champions, but there is no doubt that 
his intelligent self-limitation has acted adversely on his fame. The 
very pervasiveness of his idiom has acted no less adversely. In a 
certain limited sense, all of his music sounds alike: in their peculiar 
melodic line and rhythms, their acid-sweet harmonic sequences, 
their persistent trend to the minor, and their lavish use of orna- 
mentation, the oeuvres completes of Frederic-Frangois Chopin are a 
singular phenomenon whose component parts have a deceptive 
and, to some, a monotonous similarity. The elements that shaped 
his musical language are easy to isolate. Partly Polish, he was the 
first to introduce a Slavic note into Western music the experi- 
ments of earlier composers, who cast Slavic folk melodies into the 
absorbent, neutralizing classical mold, do not affect the argument. 

* This chapter is written on the assumption that Chopin was a great composer 
this as a warning to any violent dissenters from this opinion. The writers know that 
no argument however good, would make these dissenters change their minds. 



He was a neurotic, and his music often expresses a hypersensitive, 
decadent, and rather feminine personality. Further, he lived in a 
time and place overfriendly to the flowering of such a personality, 
and therefore it is no accident that this pampered Pole who spent 
most of his creative life in Paris wrote the most characteristic mu- 
sical illustrations of French romanticism. 

Chopin is always spoken of as a Polish composer. With more 
justice, he could be called a French composer. His mother was 
Polish, he spent the first twenty years of his Ufe in Poland, and he 
was always violently patriotic from a safe distance. On the other 
hand, his father was French, and it was in France, under French 
influences, that he wrote most of the music by which he is today 
remembered. Nicolas Chopin, his father, was an emigre who had 
been stranded in Warsaw by the failure of the French snuff manu- 
facturers for whom he had worked. Becoming a tutor in the home 
of Count Skarbek, he had married the Countess' lady in waiting, 
Justina Krzyzanowska, herself of noble birth. Fred6ric-Frangois, 
their second child and only son, was born on February 22, 1810, 
at Zelazowa-Wola, a small village near Warsaw, where the Skar- 
beks had a country place. The Chopins shortly removed to War- 
saw, Nicolas began teaching in several schools (he soon opened a 
successful tutoring academy of his own), and their home became 
a favorite resort of artists and intellectuals. They were neither poor 
nor rich always comfortable, with money enough for an occa- 
sional small luxury. Nicolas was a flautist, Justina a singer of pleas- 
ing voice, and the eldest child, Ludwika, played the piano. We 
must conceive of music, then, as always going on in this pleasant 
household, and of the fond parents violently distressed when they 
saw that their infant son reacted with floods of tears to the sound 
of music. They thought he hated it, and it was only when he 
began to pick out tunes on the piano that they realized he had 
been crying for joy. They had a hysteric on their hands, not a 
music hater. 

And so, at the age of six Frederic began to take lessons from a 
solid and withal sympathetic Czech piano teacher, Adalbert Zywny, 
for whom he always entertained a lively feeling of gratitude. Zywny 
was a devotee of Bach, and trained the boy on The Well-Tempered 
Clavichord, thus giving a firm foundation -to his pianism. Not the 
most brilliant of virtuoso prodigies, Frederic nevertheless publicly 


played a concerto on his eighth birthday. The noblemen, and even 
more the noblewomen, who made up the audience were enchanted 
by the tiny, winsome child, and from that day until his death 
Chopin was the darling of the Polish haute noblesse -an excellent 
buffer against the cruel world. He took to his noble admirers as 
much as they to him. One of his childish pleasures was being taken 
in Grand Duke Constantine's carriage to a party at the palace. 
He not unnaturally became a snob, and instead of his snobbishness 
leaving him, it throve as he matured, and remained one of his less 
pleasant traits. It must be admitted, however, that Polish society 
at that time was, with all its absurd prejudices, among the most 
highly cultivated in Europe, having a genuine interest in the arts, 
particularly music and poetry. 

Frederic began to dabble with little compositions of his own 
almost as soon as he could play the piano. His father, without any 
demur, sent him to Joseph Eisner, the best composition teacher in 
Warsaw, and a widely known and all too prolific composer. This 
was the happiest of choices, for one of Eisner's favorite maxims 
(which should be emblazoned over the door of every music school) 
was: "It is not enough for a student to equal or surpass his master; 
he should create an individuality of his own." He instantly recog- 
nized that Chopin's were no usual gifts, and allowed him what 
certain austere critics have considered too much leeway in devel- 
oping them. Chopin realized his debt to Eisner, and the bond be- 
tween them lasted throughout his life. These lessons with Zywny 
and Eisner constituted his entire formal education, with the excep- 
tion of three years at the Warsaw Lycee, where he took no interest 
in Ms courses. He passed them by the skin of his teeth, and was 
graduated at the age of seventeen a slender, dandified, effeminate 
boy, whose pallor and feeble physique told of a hothouse life di- 
vided between the music room and the salons of high society. 

Chopin craved adventure, adventure to him meaning life as it 
was lived in the cosmopolitan centers of Europe. In 1828, he got 
a glimpse of Berlin as the guest of a family friend who went there 
to attend a scientific congress presided over by the eternal Alex- 
ander von Humboldt. He stared wistfully at Spontini and Men- 
delssohn, but was too timid to introduce himself. He reveled in the 
sumptuous stagings of several operas, and wrote home that Han- 
del's Ode for St Cecilia's Day "most nearly approaches my ideal of 


sublime music." After this tactful and far from intoxicating four- 
week introduction to the great world beyond the Polish frontier, 
Chopin was back in Warsaw absorbed in musical study and com- 
position. The advent of Johann Nepomuk Hummel, that phenom- 
enal ambassador of the eighteenth century to the nineteenth,* 
aroused the lad's restlessness; that of Paganini made it intolerable. 
Furthermore, he was racked by all the torments of calf love: the 
object of his passion was a pretty soprano, but Chopin had not 
the courage to declare himself, and merely suffered and talked 
about his "ideal." 

Nicolas Chopin decided that such agony and nostalgia should 
be indulged, and accordingly, in the summer of 1829, tlle money 
for a Viennese trip was somehow found. In Vienna, Frederic suc- 
cumbed gracefully to a slender success. He found, to start with, 
that a publisher was on the verge of issuing his variations for piano 
and orchestra on "La ci darem" from Don Giovanni. Then he was 
persuaded, almost against his will, to give a concert "in a city 
which can boast of having heard a Haydn, a Mozart, and a Bee- 
thoven." He was needlessly nervous, for the concert was so success- 
ful that, a week later, he had to give another. The critics were 
extremely friendly, and there was a flurry in the female dovecotes. 
There were a few dissenters: Moscheles said his tone was "too 
small," and one woman was heard to say, "It's a pity he's so 

Chopin returned home sighing more woefully than ever for his 
soprano and bored to death with the attractions of Warsaw. His 
letters to Titus Wojciechowski, the confidant of his maidenly hopes 
and fears, quiver with self-pity and verbal breast-beating. This no 
doubt thoroughly masculine young man seems to have been for 
some years a surrogate for the girls Chopin lacked the boldness to 
speak out to. There is something decidedly ambiguous about these 
letters, with their kisses, embraces, and wheedling sentimentality, 
gently chiding "my dearest life" Titus! for his unresponsive- 
ness. There is no suggestion of the overtly abnormal anywhere in 
Chopin's life, and indeed he outgrew his effusive outpourings to 
men friends, but without developing into an aggressive male. It is 

* The pupil of Haydn, Mozart, and Salieri, and the friend of Beethoven, he 
*aiight, among other notabtti, Czerny, Hiller, and Thalberg. 


Impossible fully to understand his music unless we recognize the 
generous feminine component in his nature. 

Warsaw held Chopin for little more than a year, during which 
time he fretfully and vaguely made and unmade plans for the 
future. He thrice played successfully in public, the third time with 
his pretty soprano as assisting artist which may well have been 
the climax of his intimacy with her. At last he made up his waver- 
ing mind: on November i, 1830, he left Warsaw. He was still 
vague about his plans, his itinerary was "parts unknown," but for 
the time being he was going to Vienna with Titus WojciechowskL 
As he passed through his birthplace, Eisner had a cantata sung 
in his honor, and did not (despite a legend to the contrary) 
present him with an urnful of Polish earth an appropriate gift, 
it would have been for Chopin never returned home. 

Vienna amazed and annoyed Chopin by turning an exceedingly 
cold shoulder. The publisher who had been so nice to him on the 
previous trip still wished to sponsor certain of his compositions 
if he could get them for nothing. His former friends were either 
bankrupt or sick or out of town. And scarcely had Chopin and 
Titus settled down before they heard that the Poles had rebelled 
against the Russian tyranny. Titus was off at once to fight for 
Poland, and Frederic, after weeping for a day, decided to follow 
him. En route he changed his mind, and within a few days was 
back in his comfortable lodgings. It seems more than odd that the 
bereft youth remained for over six months in a city that was not 
only indifferent to him, but which, after the rebellion broke out, 
became violently anti-Polish. In July, 1831, Chopin was again on 
the road, with no destination except a vague feeling that he might 
end up in London. At Stuttgart he heard that the Russians had 
retaken Warsaw, which seems to have surprised as well as agitated 
Mm, though fortunately he received letters from his family that 
banished his more horrific visions. Late in September, he arrived 
in Paris, intending merely to see the sights and meet the important 
musicians. Instead, he stayed for the rest of his life. 

The slight, blond-haired young Pole with the prominent aqui- 
line nose, who arrived on the Parisian scene in the second year of 
Louis-Philippe's reign, already had a small fame. He was known 
in his homeland and in a few cities outside as a pianist whose deli- 
cate style and exquisite nuances made overhearing him in a large 


hall something of a problem. He was by now the composer of several 
ambitious piano works with orchestral accompaniment, not to 
speak of a number of smaller pieces for piano alone. The history 
of Chopin's development as a composer indicates that these or- 
chestral works all written before he was twenty-one were little 
more than shrewd bids for recognition in a musical world whose 
snobbish arbiters were inclined to look askance at anyone who 
had not a symphony or an opera, or at least a concerto, to his 
credit. A composer of mere piano pieces had no chance to enter 
this charmed circle. Chopin knew this, got the required big works 
off his chest, and, with his reputation established, turned exclu- 
sively to the solo pieces in which he knew his strength lay. 

No man ever made a wiser decision. Chopin had no talent for 
orchestration, no real understanding of the deeper issues involved 
in composing a work in several movements: he lacked the long 
breath needed for such an enterprise. Schumann's mistaken chori- 
ambics over the "La d darem" Variations come under the heading 
of clairvoyance rather than of criticism. The two piano concertos 
are both played, but no one has ever been satisfied with them. 
Numerous musical mechanics have tried their hands at viriKzing 
the orchestration, once so successfully that the piano part itself 
had to be reinforced. No amount of tinkering, however, could ever 
give either of them more than a surface unity. It is true, but by no 
means complimentary, to say that the concertos are at their best 
when they most nearly resemble Chopin's solo pieces, when, in 
short, he forgets the orchestra (which he often does), and writes a 
sprightly waltz or rondo. Separate movements of these concertos 
could easily be made into solo pieces without loss of effectiveness 
and possibly with gain in the allegro vivace of the F minor or the 
rondo of the E minor. Among the many reasonable criticisms lev- 
eled at the Chopin concertos, no one has impugned their melodic 
charm, insinuating adornments, or persuasive rhythms. They are 
not great music, but they are very pleasant to listen to. 

So we may gather that Chopin at once stepped into a respect- 
able if not distinguished niche in Parisian musical life. Paris, in 
the early thirties of the nineteenth century, was the capital of 
artistic Europe. Cherubini was still, despite his Italian name, the 
grand old man of French music, and the popular composers were, 
after Rossini, who led the field by a long stretch, Meyerbeer, 


Auber, and Louis H6rold, whose %ampa y produced just after Cho- 
pin's arrival, gave him a phenomenal popularity that was cut 
short by Ms premature death two years later. Vincenzo Bellini, 
the composer oiNorma y though already a great name, was not to 
arrive on the scene until 1833, when he and Chopin, so alike in 
melodic style, and sharing a passion for Mozart, formed a friend- 
ship that lasted until the young Sicilian's death in 1835. Berlioz 
was shaking his fierce red locks at the dried-up elders of classicism. 
Franz Liszt, youthful and dreamy as in Ingres 3 poetic drawing, 
divided honors at the keyboard with Friedrich Kalkbrenner, a 
massively correct pedant who once told Chopin that he might do 
something for his playing if Chopin would but study with him for 
three years* At the Opera the galaxy included such luminaries as 
Malibran and Pasta, Rubini and Lablache. No less brilliant was 
the literary scene, where the already aged Chateaubriand, with 
many years of literary doddering before him, was yielding to the 
ultraromanticists led by Victor Hugo, the colossus of the future, 
whose hectic Hernani was the defi of the young fanatics. Balzac was 
established, Stendhal was at the height of his powers, and Gautier, 
Dumas, and Merime were on the ascent Heine, with his puny, 
ailing body and flashing mind, was in Paris squeezing out the ut- 
most rapture from the pseudo revolution of 1830. Over painting, 
the coldly disciplined genius of Ingres exercised a chilling dic- 
tatorship; the youthful opposition was rallying around Delacroix, 
whose tumultuous canvases scandalized the official salons. 

Everywhere classicism was in retreat Music alone awaited its 
first out-and-out romantic masters: two of them Chopin and 
Liszt were at hand. 

To make his name weigh in such a splendid artistic society was, 
at first, no easy task, Chopin was next to penniless, but there 
seemed no doubt that among the many publics Paris could offer, 
there must be one for him. A debut concert, arranged for Decem- 
ber, 1831, was postponed until late January. Then the critic 
F6tis, who had a strong aversion to praising anyone, shouted his 
approval, and Mendelssohn, though he was wont to speak con- 
descendingly of the composer as "Chopinetto," warmly applauded 
the pianist* The concert enhanced Chopin's reputation among 
musicians, but only a few Polish emigres had bought tickets, and his 
pockets remained empty. Three months later, he played with 


equally depressing financial results at a fashionable charity con- 
cert, and was so dejected that he decided to move to America. Un- 
fortunately for the muse of comic history, Chopin never had a 
chance to add another by no means needed note of color to An- 
drew Jackson's United States. Fortunately for him, he accidentally 
met Prince Valentin Radziwill., who was aghast at the idea of 
Chopin departing for such savage shores. He persuaded him to try 
his luck at Baron Jacques de Rothschild's. There, amid some of the 
best names in the Almanack de Gotha, he conquered Parisian society, 
and came away with a prince, a princess, a duchess, and a count as 
his sponsors. As a result, with engagements to play, and with plenty 
of lessons at twenty francs a head, his financial problems were 
solved for over a decade. 

Chopin never deplored the inroads of society on his time: he had 
a well-developed frivolous side, adored the company of beautiful 
women of rank, and unfolded all his petals in a really select 
gathering. Once he had entree, he gave much attention to the 
business of cutting a fine figure in Parisian high society. He kept his 
own carriage, was something of a clotheshorse, and in many re- 
spects was quite like one of the young swells of the Jockey Club. 
His social vices were characteristic of the highborn Pole domiciled 
in Paris: he was snobbish to the point of stupidity, and often 
treated those he considered his inferiors with brusque discourtesy. 
Of a part with this was his fanatical contempt for Jews unless 
they happened to be Rothschilds, a Mendelssohn, or a Heine. 
He used the epithets "Jew 95 and "pig* 5 interchangeably for any- 
one who incurred, even unwittingly, his disfavor. Ever a sensitive 
plant, imbibing his impressions, and most of his nonmusical ideas, 
from his immediate ambience, Chopin did not think out these 
absurd attitudes, but accepted them as unthinkingly as he did the 
fashion of wearing yellow gloves. 

The Chopin of the overheated ballrooms with countless count- 
esses moving in the candlelight was the composer of the valses 
less than a score spaced over almost twenty years. There are 
valses in all moods gay, insouciant, disdainful, delce far nimte, 
somber, languorous, pensive all evoking the ballroom and the 
spirit of the dance. Only rarely, however, are they truly dance 
music, and never are they valses in the good, forthright Johann 
Strauss tradition. They have rhythm, and when this rhythm is not 


too vagrant, parts of them could be used in a ballroom. As it is, 
several of them have been orchestrated for ballet witness those in 
that appalling choreographic museum called Les Sylphides. It takes 
a ballet dancer, disciplined to cope with all manner of musical 
surprise, to follow the subtle retards and accelerations of Chopin's 
perplexing conception of unchanging three-four time. The valses 
are really just what Chopin intended them to be piano pieces, 
salon pieces to be played intimately. They are all charming, many 
of them enjoy world-wide popularity,* some of them have moments 
of exquisite tenderness and meditation. Yet, with the possible ex- 
ception of the C sharp minor, they are without the special tang 
and color of Chopin, the revolutionary of the pianoforte. The 
valses are Chopin's trivia. 

The truth is that the valses, having their source in no deep emo- 
tions, but bubbling off the surface of Chopin's life, could never 
rise above charm. Yet, he could make other dance forms the 
vehicles of eloquent emotion. Such were the polonaise and the 
mazurka, where the fact that they were Polish dances touched off a 
complex of personal feelings patriotism, homesickness, pride of 
race, a realization of exile that make them spiritually sincere, 
artistically creative as the valses almost never are. 

The polonaise, which in Liszt's deft but insensitive hands be- 
came an omnibus of piano effects, in Chopin's was a magnificent 
catch at lofty and poetic moods. In this superb dozen of epic 
dances great vigorous dances for noble men it is hard to find 
the Chopin whom John Field (himself a minor poet at the key- 
board) described as "a sickroom talent" With the exception of the 
clangorous "Afilitaire," the polonaises have seldom won the great 
popular favor they deserve: they are too difficult for any except the 
strongest and most agile virtuoso; they are entirely beyond the 
reach of the amateur who can manage a valse or a prelude. Yet, 
even a long-neglected polonaise can be dusted off, and used by a 
great pianist to bring down the house. In capable hands they are 
absolutely sure-fire. The main reason for this is that, apart from 
their specific musical beauties, they are amazingly exciting. Three 
of them tower above the rest, and belong definitely to the greater 
Chopin. These big works require such a wide range of dynamics, 

* In one case, at least, unfortunately. Of the so-called "Minute 5 ' Valse, in D flat, 
James Huneker said that "like the rich, It is always with us." 


and teem with so many fortisslmos and sforzandos, that it is im- 
possible to imagine their own composer, with his feeble attack, 
doing them justice. Chopin often said that he "heard" certain of 
his compositions only when Liszt played them for him, and these 
three giants must have been among them. The F sharp minor 
Polonaise is a tortured, stormy introspection divided into two parts 
by a whispering aside in mazurka style an enigmatic pause that, 
in addition to supplying vivid dramatic contrast, suggests nostalgia 
and bittersweet musings. The A flat Polonaise is a triumphant 
composition; occasionally called the "Heroic," it almost equals 
the "Militaire" in popularity. It is as outward-turned as the F 
sharp minor is inward-searching. It represents the joy, completely 
impersonal, of great issues happily decided. There remains the 
Polonaise-Fantaisie, likewise in A flat, vast, ambiguous, and less 
structurally well knit than most of Chopin's piano pieces. After 
some difficulty in getting started it makes three false starts (a 
Lisztian trick) it vaporizes beautifully for several pages, which 
are studded with quasi-Schumannesque epigrams, achieves a 
satisfactory climax, collapses, and inconsequentially sets off on 
another tack and works up into one of the most effective climaxes 
in all of Chopin. 

For expressing more intimate and evanescent moods than seem 
native to the polonaise, Chopin turned to another Polish dance 
the mazurka. He wrote fifty-six mazurkas of amazing variety, but 
almost all intensely Slavic in feeling. Many have recourse to the 
most exotic harmonies and melodic intervals. The way they break 
the rules, sometimes to produce an authentic Slavic effect, some- 
times out of sheer disdain, infuriated the theorists of the day. Even 
the much freer rules of modern harmony might not admit some of 
these strange progressions, but the ear music's best arbiter 
allows them because they seem to arise inevitably out of the whole 
design and context of the music. Lovely, haunting, eerily seductive 
though they are, the mazurkas have never been concert hits, not 
because audiences would not like them, but because they offer few 
big chances to heroic virtuosos. This is perhaps just as well: the 
mazurkas would lose some of their bloom at the hands of keyboard 
giants in the wide spaces of the concert hall. They need, far more 
than the valses, and quite as much as the preludes, the small room, 
the right time, the personal touch. Among the fifty-six, you 


are bound to find at least one that will fit your mood (unless 
you long to overturn a dictator or improve your game of golf) , and 
the technical difficulties are not formidable enough to keep you 
from expressing yourself adequately. There are, as Huneker said, 
Chopin mazurkas that are "ironical, sad, sweet, joyous, morbid, 
sour, sane and dreamy" moocis for any man. 

It is not easy to picture this master of moods as a piano teacher, 
however fashionable. Yet, from 1832 on, much of his everyday life 
was a pedagogue's, and the strange thing is that he seems to have 
relished teaching. It led him to the best houses. Oddly enough, 
not one of his known pupils became a great pianist, though there is 
a legend that Louis Moreau Gottschalk, that Creole Don Juan of 
the keyboard, studied with Mm. This story is supported by the 
fact that Gottschalk introduced Chopin's music in America. The 
most promising pupil Chopin ever had was a child prodigy who 
died at the age of fifteen, and of whom Liszt said, "When he starts 
playing, I'll shut up shop." But most of Chopin's pupils were 
dilettante aristocrats of both sexes, female predominating. 

It was left for Chopin the composer, through two sets of twelve 
etudes,* to become, after Bach, the most inspired of keyboard 
pedagogues. Bach, in seeking to establish the perfect relationships 
of the tempered scales, produced forty-eight preludes and fugues 
that, besides being inherently beautiful, are still the classic touch- 
stone of piano pedagogy. Chopin, who always limbered up for his 
own concerts by playing from The Well-Tempered Clavichord, made, 
in the etudes, a series of field maps of the territories he had had to 
explore in order to enlarge the range of piano technique. In almost 
every one of them he dealt with a problem, or related problems, 
incidental to the new kind of music he was composing, and there is 
plenty of internal evidence, despite the multifarious programs 
that have been suggested for various etudes, that they were de- 
liberately designed as exercises for overcoming specific difficulties. 
The study in thirds (Opus 25, No. 6) and the tremendous one in 
octaves (Opus 25, No. 10) reveal their teaching purposes at a 
glance. But even such a demoniac outburst as the "Revolutionary" 
(Opus 10, No. 12) is easily analyzed as "a bravura study of the 

* For the three supplementary etudes, published in 1840 as part of F6tis and 
Moscheles* Mlthode des metkodes pour h piano > 9 there have been many apologists, though 
they are the least strong of Chopin's studies. 


very highest order for the left hand." In a few, the specific problem 
is not so easily isolated, but it is always there. Yet Edward Dann- 
reuther absent-mindedly stated that Chopin's etudes "have no 
didactic purpose" : he seems to have been duped by their musical 
quality into believing that they could not have had a practical 
inception. But that is the miracle of the etudes: in setting forth the 
technical problems, Chopin invariably created music that could 
stand on its own merits. The best of the etudes, indeed, are among 
the finest compositions for the piano. It has been truly said that he 
who can play the Chopin etudes can play anything in modern 
piano literature. Nor does this refer merely to technique. 

When Chopin was not teaching or composing or attitudinizing 
gracefully in candlelit salons, he was competing with other famous 
pianists of the day. Early in 1833, he appeared with Liszt on a 
benefit program for Harriet Smithson, the mediocre Irish actress 
who had kindled a forest fire of passion in Berlioz' heart. The 
next year he played at a concert given by Berlioz himself, though 
he once said maliciously of the mad Hector's music that anyone 
was fully justified in breaking off with the man who wrote it. 
Meanwhile, other pianists were bringing certain of his own com- 
positions (precisely those that are more or less forgotten today) 
before the public, not only in Paris, but in Germany. Clara Wieck 
and Liszt were among his early interpreters. 

Little more than two years after he was prepared to stake every- 
thing on a melodramatic expedition to America, Chopin had be- 
come one of the most famous men in Paris. His compositions were 
eagerly sought after by publishers, and yet it is curious that one of 
his most popular pieces, the Fantaisie-Impromptu, though com- 
posed at this time, was not published until six years after his death. 
As most of his posthumous compositions were those he considered 
unworthy of publication, can it be that he had small use for this 
favorite? The sloppy cantabile (which, almost unchanged, was to 
become the epidemic Tm Always Chasing Rainbows) lends color to 
this supposition, though the sheer rhythmical inspiration of the 
allegro agitato and presto more than compensates for it. The whole 
piece has a brilliant improvisational quality that makes it a true 
impromptu: the word "Fantaisie" was a meddlesome afterthought 
by the publisher. 

In May, 1834, with money secured hastily by selling a valse be- 


hind his regular publisher's back, Chopin went with Hiller to the 
Lower Rhine Festival at Aix-la-Chapelle. Mendelssohn was there 
in high spirits, and after the festival was over bore them off to 
Diisseldorf. He was enthusiastic if ambiguous about Chopin's 
playing: "As a pianoforte player he is now one of the very first 
quite a second Paganini. ..." But the classicist in Mendelssohn 
added that Chopin often lost sight "of time and calmness and real 
musical feeling": in those days the Pole's "leaning about within 
the measure" his notorious rubato was a revolutionary novelty 
not yet dulled by volumes of discussion. Evidently Mendelssohn 
never understood its real function.* And, indeed, he was of two 
minds about Chopin the composer, finding him "discordant" 
and too mannered, though admitting his soulfulness a dubious 
compliment that Chopin returned by damning Mendelssohn's 
works in Mo. Nor was Chopin more appreciative of Schumann, 
whom he met during his last visits to Germany in 1835 and 1836. 
In view of Schumann's continuing service to Chopin's reputation, 
the unhappy fellow might have hoped for something better at his 
hands than the cold remark that "Carnaval is hot music at all." 

The year 1835 was one of the stormiest in Chopin's life. In the 
first place, he became deeply depressed by the public's tepid reac- 
tion to his playing he foolishly matched his salon touch against 
Liszt's thunderous pianism in large halls, and naturally cut a poor 
figure. In early April, the two of them played at a charity concert, 
and the applause for Chopin was almost as delicate as Ms playing. 
He concluded gloomily that he had better stick to composing, and 
said unhappily to Liszt: "I am not fitted to give concerts. The 
crowd intimidates me; I feel asphyxiated by its breath, paralyzed 
by its curious look, dumb before the strange faces; but you, you 
are destined for the crowd, because when you do not captivate 
your public, you have the wherewithal to overpower it." A spite- 
ful remark. Was he implying that what Liszt could not do legiti- 
mately, he accomplished with sex appeal and piano-pounding? 
After this, Chopin rarely played in public. His reputation as a key- 
board sorcerer depends almost exclusively on the reports of friends 
and fellow musicians who heard him play his own compositions at 
private musicales. 

* It remained for Berlioz, the unflinchiag breaker of rules, to castigate Chopin 
primly for his rubato, saying: "Chopin could not play in strict time." 


The figure Chopin cut at these aristocratic gatherings healed 
whatever wounds his vanity suffered at the hands of the larger 
public. He was a male coquette there are abundant traces of 
coquetry in his lighter pieces and many of his usually inconclu- 
sive romances began as he poured out his ardent Slavic soul at the 
keyboard and swept his susceptible audience with his lustrous 
eyes. There was something about this slight, poetic-looking ex- 
quisite that would have made conquests easy for him if he had had 
more sheer male drive. But so shrinking was he that the woman 
had to be the aggressor, and there is good reason for believing that 
he did not have his first sexual experience until 1834 or 1835, when 
he was seduced by a misunderstood wife, the talented and glam- 
orous Countess Delphine Potocka. There was real affection be- 
tween them, but the liaison was cut short when her jealous hus- 
band, by stopping her allowance, forced her to return to Warsaw. 

Apparently while suffering from this deprivation, Chopin went 
to Carlsbad to visit his parents. After two happy months, not 
realizing that they would never meet again, he left them and went 
on to Dresden to see the Wodziiiski, family, friends of his child- 
hood. There, or the following year atTMarienbad a he seems to have 
offered marriage to the youthful Countess Marja Wodzinska, 
though evidently without being passionately in love with her. 
The details of the affair, about which so many doleful conjectural 
pages have been printed, remain extremely obscure. Certain it is 
that Count Wodziiiski objected to a musician son-in-law, but just 
as certainly Chopin for two years looked forward to marrying 
Marja. He was longing for a wife and home the specific Marja 
was a secondary consideration. In 1837, while he still considered 
himself plighted to her, she made it clear, by the cold tone of her 
letters, that marriage was out of the question. 

If these abortive relationships, these yearnings for romance, 
these searchings for lasting love, have a musical gloss, it is pre- 
eminently in the nocturnes* Unlike the mazurka or polonaise, the 
nocturne is a fluid mood piece, not a distinct musical form. What 
gives Chopin's nocturnes their family resemblance is precisely 
their yearning, searching, often darkling mood. In the hand" of 
Haydn and Mozart, a notturno had been an orchestral serenade. 
John Field, the Irish virtuoso who was St. Petersburg's most fash- 
ionable piano teacher in the early nineteenth century, published 


the first piano pieces to be called nocturnes, by which he meant 
evocations of night moods, and Chopin, who knew Field, ap- 
propriated the idea. Field, to judge by his sane, pellucid nocturnes, 
felt the same by night as by day. Not so Chopin, whose moods 
deepened as the shades of night fell. His nocturnes are the music 
of exacerbated nerves. Their sickly phosphorescence illumines the 
jungle places, the tropical miasmas of his psyche. They express not 
only Chopin the thwarted lover, but Chopin the neurotic, the 
ambivalent, the decadent. The most flagrant ones would be ap- 
propriately heard in a hothouse. Almost all of them are harmoni- 
cally lush "fruity," Huneker called one of them. At least two are 
Chopin in the grand manner the C sharp minor (Opus 27, No. i) 
acid the C minor, the latter one of his finest inspirations, if the least 
nocturnelike, with its sonorous Mendelssohn-o^m-Wagner tri- 
umphal march and the magical doppio movimmto with its strangely 
Brahmsian motion. In some respects, the nocturnes, which so often 
exaggerate his idiosyncrasies to the point of caricature, are the 
most Chopinesque of all his works. They have ended by doing a 
disservice to his reputation, for it is upon oversentimentaHzed 
interpretations of them by oversentimental pianists that the con- 
ception of Chopin as "the Polish tuberose" chiefly rests. 

An excellent corrective for this one-sided conception of Chopin 
is furnished by the four scherzos, the most human and variable of 
which that in B flat minor was published the very year his hope 
of settling down with the Wodzinska was dashed. The scherzos are 
stalwarts, and the first three are works of impassioned vigor. Like 
the three giant polonaises, they demand great strength, a bravura 
technique, and an understanding of musical Byronics. They have 
little if any likeness to earlier scherzos, which developed out of the 
minuet, and which, in the hands of Beethoven, became pieces of 
titanic playfulness. They are almost equally distant from Men- 
delssohn's gossamer adaptation of the classical scherzo. Indeed, 
it is difficult to understand why Chopin called these four moody 
pieces scherzos at all. The first one, for example, might just as 
well be called War and Peace. But instead of criticizing his arbi- 
trary naming, we ought rather to enjoy them as prime examples of 
musical energy at high speed (they are all marked presto), and 
be thankful that their creator did not shackle them together witibi 


unnatural bonds, and call the whole a sonata a thing he was 
quite capable of doing. 

In composition Chopin could find release for ordinary emo- 
tional pressures, but in the case of Marja Wodzinska he could not 
thus exorcise the specter of his shattered hopes. His health suffered, 
and he sank into ominous lethargy. When he did not rally, two of 
his friends coaxed him into going with them to London. They were 
gone less than a fortnight but long enough, it has been said, for 
the combination of English weather and his lowered vitality to 
impair Chopin's congenitally weak lungs. He returned home 
suffering in body and mind, and might well have surrendered 
himself completely to despair and disease if the entire course of his 
life had not been changed by one of the most remarkable women 
of the nineteenth century George Sand. They had met in the 
winter of 1836 at the home of Liszt's mistress, the Countess 
d'Agoult, and were on friendly terms even before his ill-advised 
English journey. Almost immediately after his return, they were 
seen everywhere together. By the summer of 1838, they were so 
intimate that they spent their vacation together at Nohant, her 
chateau in the Loire country. Thus began the most publicized 
love affair in musical history. 

In the game of love, the febrile Frederic was no match for this 
Semiramis of letters. Mme Sand came of a line of great lovers: 
Augustus the Strong of Saxony was her paternal great-great- 
grandfather. Her mother's father sold turtledoves in the streets of 
Paris. She herself was illegitimate by a month. Although site 
married a baron and bore him two children, her present fame rests 
largely on her affairs with a singular cavalcade of distinguished 
men, which in no way interfered with her frightening productivity 
as a writer. She was at least as famous in her day as George Eliot, 
but whereas the Englishwoman had to content herself with the 
author of an indifferent book on Aristotle, Sand tried and dis- 
carded, besides a few anonymities, Merimee, De Musset, and 
Chopin. Among those who literally worshiped her not only as a 
priestess of letters but also as a humanitarian, feminist, and nature 
cultist were such diverse personages as Heine, Balzac, Sainte- 
Beuve, Flaubert, Arnold, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Barrett 
Browning who knelt to Mss her hand when they were introduced. 
Six years Chopin's senior, she was, at the time of their meeting, at 


the height of her fame, a woman of wide sympathies, powerfully 
male in intelligence, but devouringly maternal in her attitude to- 
ward her lovers. 

At first Chopin had found Mme Sand repellent, but before he 
knew precisely what was happening to him, her enveloping sym- 
pathy had lapped him in the mother love he yearned for. He be- 
came enslaved. Nothing else explains a man so prim about moral 
appearances (he broke off friendly relations with Liszt because he 
had used Chopin's rooms for an assignation) going off to spend the 
summer with this dumpy sibyl, for it was as much as a young man*s 
reputation was worth to be seen in her company in those days. He 
then threw discretion farther to the winds, and spent a wet, miser- 
able winter with her on the island of Majorca. Chopin was des- 
perately ill during this nightmarish honeymoon: he and Mme 
Sand and her children were objects of vengeful suspicion by the 
superstitious natives (primarily because they did not go to church), 
and were starved into seeking refuge at an abandoned monastery, 
where they put up for several wretched months. His ill-heated, 
damp cell and the vile food again wrecked his health, and when 
finally they made their escape from the island, Chopin, suffering 
constantly from hemorrhages, was carried aboard the stinking 
freighter in an advanced stage of phthisis. Eventually the weary 
travelers put in at Marseilles, and there Chopin recuperated 
slowly before returning to Nohant for the summer. 

A novelist, faced with the problem of solving the fate of so 
wrecked a hero as Chopin was when he landed at Marseilles, 
might be excused for incontinently killing him off. Not being a 
fictionist's puppet, Chopin chose to live ten years more. Not only 
that, he brought back with him from Majorca, besides two polo- 
naises and a ballad e 3 the twenty-four preludes of Opus 28. It is 
not known how many of these were actually composed there 
probably but a very few but certainly most of the business of 
"selecting, filing, and polishing" them was done on the island. It 
was, in fact, by promising to deliver a book of preludes that 
Chopin had received the wherewithal for the Majorca trip. Like 
the nocturnes, the preludes do not have a formal character of 
their own. They are, again, mood pieces, but there is good reason 
to play them as a group, for they are arranged, like the preludes 
and fugues of The Well-Tempered Clavichord, in key sequence, one in 


every possible major and minor key. They range in length from 
that sketch for "the funeral march of nations 5 ' in C minor to the 
turbulent, rampaging B flat minor, in mood from the truly happy 
D major to the Caliban's face in A minor. The preludes, if they 
have any family resemblance at all, lie between the improvisatory 
nocturnes and the etudes with their masterly free working-out of 
technical problems. Several of them are extremely popular, no- 
tably the brooding, sunless E minor, the yearningly sad B minor, 
the tiny mazurkalike A major, the so-called "Raindrop" Prelude, 
with its muffled march of dead monks (George Sand's idea), the 
solemn C minor, and the rippling, open-air F major. The nine- 
teenth, in E flat major, is one of the most light-shot pages Chopin 
ever composed its swirling rhythms are as graceful as those of a 
Botticelli drapery. 

The refining of these preludes had been somehow accomplished 
in the sordid misery of the Majorca winter. Now, after the healing 
months in Marseilles and Nohant, Chopin returned to Paris and 
entered upon one of the most productive periods of his life. He was 
unquestionably much in love with Mme Sand, and through her 
achieved a kind of emotional stability he had craved and needed. 
His work benefited: "His melodies are purer, his rhythms more 
virile, his harmonies richer," William Murdoch has noted. "Some- 
thing has happened that has broadened every idea, made nobler 
every inspiration and given greater shape to every conception." 
Settled down in Paris in the same house with Mme Sand, Chopin 
worked at his art with a passion, a concentrated fervor that, in the 
brief space of two years, produced a spate of splendid new pieces, 
many of them on an unwontedly large scale. The first to see the 
light of day after the preludes was that amazing suite of pieces 
Chopin chose to call the B flat minor Sonata.* Hearing it for the 
first time, Schumann declared, "To have called this a sonata must 
be reckoned a freak, if not a piece of pride; for he has simply yoked 
together four of his maddest children. . . ." The first two move- 
ments are Beethovian in scope, though scarcely in character, the 
first breathless and disturbed, with musing episodes quickening 
finally into a gigantic crescendo; the second a vigorous, stormy, 
impassioned scherzo that demands muscles of steel for an eloquent 

* Chopin had already made one desperate attempt to write a true classical sonata 
in C minor -and failed. 


reading. These two movements glow and give off sparks. What, 
however, can be said of the next part the famed Marche furiebre, 
with its sudden and irrelevant heavy-footedness? Some pianists 
play it with such magic (though even they cannot relate it to the 
rest of the sonata) that we momentarily forget that it is Chopin at 
his worst. Self-conscious mourners plod along in their secondhand 
mourning^ bells toll, somewhere a voice is calling. ... A trio in D 
flat major that cuts the march in two is pure sugar. The fourth 
movement is a whirring toccata, classic in shape but not in har- 
mony. Played pianissimo and in one color, it brushes the ears like 
the ghost of music. 

The second and best of Chopin's three* impromptus came hard 
on the heels of the B flat minor Sonata. Not as carefree or as truly 
Irnprovisational as the previously published one in A flat, and free 
of the overexotidsm of the nocturnelike G flat major published 
later, the F sharp major Impromptu seems to be telling a story 
but a musical story that needs no program. It is difficult to think of 
this as an impromptu: it is more like a lovingly planned ballade, 
various in mood, bafflingly unified in design, dramatic in build-up 
and impact. In the four ballades, the middle two of which were 
also published in this same period of renascence, Chopin actually 
wrote program music. The specific story of each matters not at all, 
for though they have a storylike quality they are persuasive and 
sufficient as absolute music. The G minor, endowed with one of the 
most insinuating of melodies, explores in many directions, has its 
moments of victory, soars aloft on an ethereal valse tune, and seems 
about to end as it began when the irruption of some vast and 
indomitable force, tragic in effect and blind in fury, wreaks its 
havoc in some of music's grandest and most powerful dynamics. 
The second ballade, in F major, which has been called "mysteri- 
ous," is, after this, a poor thing. The A flat is elegant, suave, a 
society dandy the favorite of all the ballades. It is beautiful, in- 
gratiating, slight The last ballade the F minor is a nocturne in 
excelds^ storied in some fabulous south. Its emotional climate shifts 
from calm to a threat of storm. The calms of its Eden seduce but 
cloy, yet the storm is magnificent when it breaks. Altogether a 
superb if enigmatic composition. 

Finally, the very keystone of Chopin's greater art belongs to this 

* Four, if the Fantaisie- Impromptu is counted. 


remarkable period of unstinted creativeness. The F minor Fan- 
taisie has been called "a Titan in commotion/ 3 and all sorts of 
programs have been suggested for it, one more absurd than the 
other, as if Chopin could not have reared this vast fabric without 
binding it together with trivial anecdotage. Even he himself had a 
program for it according to Liszt, whose biography of Chopin 
must be taken as a floral tribute rather than a source of informa- 
tion.* The Fantaisie is a big composition in every sense: the themes 
axe not only very beautiful but also extremely malleable and 
susceptible to development; the large design is carried out with 
complete success, sustained by passionate and unfaltering in- 
tellectual attention. This masterly composition finally refutes Sir 
W. H. Hadow's careless statement that "in structure Chopin is a 
child playing with a few simple types, and almost helpless as soon 
as he advances beyond them." Woe to the brash pianist who at- 
tacks the Fantaisie as if it were what its name might imply a 
piece with only vague formal unity! He must realize that the 
Fantaisie has an architecture of its own as discoverable and as 
cogent to its interpretation as that of a classical sonata. When 
played by an artist who thinks as well as moves his fingers, the 
Fantaisie emerges in all its three-dimensional grandeur as one of 
the most dramatic, impressive, and satisfying works ever written 
for the solo piano. 

The creative effort that had produced within two years such a 
ponderable and splendid part of Chopin's lifework was super- 
human in a man who was slowly dying. It could not be kept up. 
The story of his life after 1841 is one of decline, and for six years its 
pattern was unvarying. Every summer he went to Mme Sand's 
chiteau at Nohant, where her sensible nursing helped him gather 
strength for the autumn and winter season in Paris. Every winter 
he had a few pieces ready for his publishers, and he always had 
strength enough to quarrel with them over terms. Otherwise these 
years passed almost without incident, unless they be judged in 
terms of a day-by-day history of the Parisian salon. Twice Chopin 
came out of his retirement. Like Achilles sulking in his tent, he had 
for years held aloof from the concert stage of his beloved Paris. 

* A floral tribute, however, with some malodorous and poisonous blooms. Part of 
this book is said to come from the pen of one of Liszt's last mistresses, Princess 
Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein. 


Suddenly, on April 26, 1841, he appeared In a semipublic concert 
with the great soprano, Laure Cinti-Damoreau, who had created 
Mathilde In William TdL The privileged, selected audience 
mostly his aristocratic friends and pupils received him raptur- 
ously. The next year, on February 21, he gave another concert, 
this time with his friend Pauline Viardot-Garcia, one of the most 
intelligent singers of the age. 

In 1844, his father died, and news of this, together with the 
growing tension between him and Mme Sand, prostrated Chopin. 
Every year he submitted himself to the now painful ordeal of 
Nohant, seeing in her less and less the mistress, more and more the 
nurse and strong-willed mother. Her son and daughter were grow- 
ing up, and Chopin often disagreed with Mme Sand over house- 
hold politics, even taking the children's part against her. Troubled 
and increasingly weakened by his disease, he turned over fewer 
and fewer compositions to his publishers each year. Yet, as late 
as 1845, he signed the fine B minor Sonata. Here, the vigor and 
passion of the "four maddest children" of the B flat minor Sonata 
have all but vanished. In their place is a mastery of form that is 
eminently satisfying, real adequacy in the art of deploying materi- 
als over the skeleton of a design. The scene Is varied. The turbu- 
lent introduction, lyrical, dewy, exquisitely modulated episodes, a 
light yet dynamic scherzo, a pensive elegiac largo, and a sweeping 
finale that is a first-rate bravura number in its own right these 
are the Interrelated components of the best of Chopin's three 
sonatas. The B minor Sonata was the last of Chopin's great works, 
for neither the rather Debussyan Berceuse nor that perfect music 
for the full flood of love the Barcarolle can be called great. 
Henceforth Chopin was to be submerged by his personal tragedy. 

In 1847, after signs that it might drag on wearily until one of 
them died, his romance with George Sand came to an abrupt end. 
Those who choose to regard her as the villain of the piece say that 
Chopin took umbrage at the publication of her novel Lucrezia 
Floriani, in which he was caricatured under the guise of the epicene 
Prince Karol. This is not so. He read Lucrezia as Sand wrote it, and 
took no offense. Rather, she maneuvered herself into the position 
of the injured party, using as a pretext Chopin's siding with her 
daughter, Solange, in a complicated family quarrel. Unfortu- 
nately for sentimental historians, the final battles of the war were 


waged by mail, Chopin having left Nohant for Paris. The separa- 
tion meant little to the woman: she was strong, at the height of 
her powers, very much absorbed in the liberal causes she had 
espoused and she was, anyway, tired of Chopin. To him it was 
quite literally a deathblow: she had preserved a certain pattern 
in his life, provided him with a home. He saw her but once again, 
and then by accident, on which occasion he had the honor to tell 
Sand that she had become a grandmother.* When he was on his 
deathbed, she tried to see him, but was refused admittance by his 

For some years Sand had been addressing him playfully as "my 
dear corpse" : now he truly looked like one an ailing wisp of a 
man who weighed less than a hundred pounds. His purse, too, was 
almost empty, and though every added exertion meant agony, he 
had to do something to fill it. His friends and publishers persuaded 
him to give a concert. On February 16, 1848, he made his first 
public appearance in six years, playing a long and taxing pro- 
gram, including the piano part in his Cello Sonata, the last ex- 
tended work he composed. The concert was a great social and 
financial success. Chopin played exquisitely, but almost fainted 
after the last number. It was his farewell to the Paris public, which 
in this case consisted of royal dukes, members of the peerage, and 
Chopin's pupils. 

That brilliant gathering in the Salle Pleyel was one of the last 
great social events of the Orleanist monarchy: eight days later, the 
bourgeois Louis-Philippe and his dowdy Queen were no longer 
rulers of France. Chopin viewed the revolution with spiteful dis- 
favor: he feared that a republican France meant that the nobles 
would emigrate, and his sources of income would be further re- 
duced. At this juncture, his devoted friend and pupil, Jane Wil- 
helmina Stirling, a Scotswoman of ample means, induced him to go 
to England. She took care of all details of the trip, and hired rooms 
for him in London, where he arrived late in April, 1848. He played 
privately at several fine houses, refused an invitation from the 
Philharmonic "I would rather not they want classical things 
there," he wrote and met shoals of celebrities, including Carlyle 

* Solange had quarreled with her mother, but not with Chopin, who thus was 
often favored with the first news of intimate family matters in this case, the birth of 
Solange's first child. 


and Dickens. At first, the critics and musicians were inclined to 
welcome Chopin, but as he evinced such a decided preference for 
playing privately, their enthusiasm cooled, and he was set down as 
a society snob. He grew more and more unhappy. Critical un- 
friendliness, bad weather, and ever-waning health added to his 
depression. He longed for the lost peace of Nohant. 

The well-intentioned Miss Stirling, who seems to have been in 
love with Chopin, now prescribed a visit to Scotland. This was not 
so bad during the summer, but he lingered there until well into the 
harsh northern autumn, giving mildly successful concerts in Man- 
chester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, and expending what little 
strength he had left in a round of calls on titled friends. At the 
end of October, convinced that he was dying, he returned to 
London. A flicker of humor remained: "I have not yet played to 
any Englishwoman without her saying to me, 'Leik water** They 
all look at their hands, and play the wrong notes with much feel- 
ing. Eccentric folk. God help them. 55 Humor remained, yes, but 
will power was gone. He was wheedled into playing at a Polish 
ball. It was a three-ring circus, and nobody paid the slightest at- 
tention to him. Even the press completely ignored this last un- 
fortunate public appearance. It was November 16, 1848. 

In January, Chopin returned painfully to France. As his train 
neared Paris, he mused bitterly on that ill-advised hegira from 
wMch he was returning. "Do you see the cattle in that meadow? 35 
he asked his valet. "They've more intelligence than the English.' 5 
When he arrived, he took it as a last evil omen that the only doctor 
in whom he had confidence had died in his absence. No longer 
able to teach, much of the time unable even to sit up, Chopin had 
no way of earning a living. Income he had none^ for he had always 
sold his compositions outright on a royalty basis he would have 
been assured of a handsome living. He was well-nigh destitute 
when two of his wealthy women friends came forward, one of 
them, the Countess Obreskov, secretly paying half his rent. The 
other was the pathetically faithful Miss Stirling, who sent him 
25,000 francs, of which he seems to have kept about half, and re- 
turned the rest. His hosts of friends were unceasingly attentive. 
Delacroix, though stiff and unbending with most, showed Chopin 
a brothers affection. His own sister Ludwika and her husband 

* The Italicized words represent Chopin's phonetic attempt at English* 


came from Poland to attend him. Daily, the princesses and count- 
esses whose company he so adored came to pay homage to the 
dying man. 

Out of the past, almost as if the last act of the drama of Chopin's 
life demanded her presence., came Delphine Potocka. When they 
had met, many years before, she had enchanted him with the 
thrilling quality of her voice, and now one of his few pleasures 
was to hear her sing. A few days before he died, she came to his 
bedside, and sang an aria by his beloved Mend Bellini. Chopin was 
fully aware that his days were numbered. With perfect composure, 
he asked his sister to burn his unpublished manuscripts. "I owe it 
to the public and myself to publish only my best works," he ex- 
plained. "I have kept to this resolution all my life I wish to keep 
to it now." As the end approached, he was tormented by the fear 
of being buried alive, and one of his last acts was to scrawl a note 
asking that his body be cut open before burial. On the night of 
October 16, 1849^ a Polish priest gave him extreme unction. His 
doctor then asked him whether he was suffering, and he whispered, 
"Plus" no longer. He died early the following morning. 

At Chopin's request part of the Mozart Requiem was sung at 
his funeral in the Madeleine. Lablache, who had sung the bass 
part at Beethoven's funeral, now sang it at Chopin's. The great 
world of society and art attended reverently, and among those 
who followed the hearse to Pere Lachaise were Meyerbeer and 
Delacroix- A year later, at Jane Stirling's request^ Polish earth 
was sprinkled over the grave. 

Chapter XIV 

Louis-Hector Berlioz 

(La Cote-Saint-Andre., December 11, i8o3-March 8 3 
1869, Paris) 

He is not, perhaps, as great as Cervantes, but he is as great 
as Don Quixote. Only very silly people will take him seri- 
ously, but they are not as silly as the people who don't. 
Sir Donald F. Tovey: Essays in Musical Analysis, VI. 

i YMBOLIC of the slowness of widespread appreciation for the 
O music of Hector Berlioz is the fact that the first consider- 
able English book about him was published in 1934, sixty-five 
years after his death. This is even more significant when com- 
pared with the posthumous fate of those four of his most dis- 
tinguished contemporaries who died after him: Wagner, Liszt, 
Brahms, and Verdi. Almost before they had breathed their last 
breath, the presses had begun to groan under the vast load of 
commentaries and biographies. Their music was being played 
everywhere (as it still is), as was Tchaikovsky's. Yet each of these 
five men outlived Berlioz by many years, Wagner by fourteen, 
Verdi by thirty-two. Each was securely established in recognized 
greatness, while Berlioz maintained a precarious fame during 
his lifetime only by his persistence in pushing his own com- 
positions. To this day he remains the least played and the least 
understood of the great composers of the past two hundred and 
fifty years. 

In about equal parts, Berlioz suffered from his position in 
time and from his artistic idiosyncrasies. During the artistically 
pinched days of the Bourbon restoration he early developed 
into a full-blown romantic and came into unequal conflict 
with the chilly musical autocracy headed by the austere, classi- 
cizing Cherubim. As a French romantic he had no predecessors, 
and in France he found no disciples to translate for a wider 
public his admittedly difficult idiom. It was an idiom difficult 
both to grasp and to convey. The melodic line so protracted 
as to require concentrated listening, the highly personal har- 
monic concept, and that nervous, dramatic movement from idea 



to idea which at first hearing seems fragmentary: these have 
proved a stumbling-block to an easy acceptance of what, on ac- 
quaintance, turns out to be some of the most beautiful music 
ever written. Thus did Berlioz hold off audiences. And to 
musical organizations of all sorts he offered quite as effective 
excuses for resistance: he early acquired a reputation only 
occasionally deserved of composing huge compositions calling 
for equally huge forces. Impresarios and conductors, faced with 
what seemed to them unreasonable and overexpensive de- 
mands, were blind to that perfect choice and balance of instru- 
ments and voices which justified those demands. Nor was Berlioz 
a Richard Wagner, able by sheer force of character, scheming, 
and mystical egotism to impose his art upon a reluctant world. 

Berlioz was born on Sunday, the nineteenth day of Frimaire, 
in the twelfth year of the French Republic five months before 
Napoleon Bonaparte decreed the creation of the First Empire; 
he lived almost long enough to see the extinction of the Second. 
During his lifetime, France suffered from an unparalleled series 
of political vicissitudes, from the splendors of Napoleon I through 
the jitters of Louis XVIII and Charles X and the doldrums of 
Louis-Philippe to the transparent glories of Louis-Napoleon. 
Yet Berlioz fought on no barricades, wrote no political pam- 
phlets. In a political world politics moved him not at all. From 
his early adolescence he existed in two dimensions: as artist and 
as lover. 

It was in a small village near Grenoble, in Dauphiny, that 
Berlioz was born to Louis Berlioz, physician, and his wife, 
Marie-Antoinette-Josephine Marmion. He was the first of six 
children, three boys and three girls; only Hector and two of his 
sisters grew to maturity, and he outlived them all. Dr. Berlioz,, 
who provided a moderately comfortable living for his family, 
was a man of some intellectual attainments, which meant that 
he was a revolutionary and a freethinker. He once served as 
mayor of the village, where he was known for his affable dis- 
position and even temper. Mme Berlioz was a devout Catholic 
who tried earnestly to pass on. her faith to her children. With 
Hector, at least, she succeeded only temporarily, and he in- 
stinctively disagreed with her bigoted opinion of poets, the- 
atrical people s and musicians. With both parents he quarreled 

early over his independent decision to take up music as a career, 
though Ms father had not objected to his learning the rudiments 
of the art as an amateur. 

Dr. Berlioz had high-handedly decided that his eldest son 
was to become a physician, but so rapid had been Hector's 
progress as an amateur composer that shortly after his sixteenth 
birthday he had put together a potpourri on Italian airs and 
sent it to a publisher in Paris. And indeed he had already a 
rather impressive musical equipment: he could, as W. J. Turner 
summarized it, "sing well at sight . . . play the flute, the flageo- 
let, the guitar, the drum. . - ." A quintet for flute and strings 
composed about a year later could not mate the elder Berlioz 
relent: Hector was entered in the Ecole de Medicine in Paris 
in 1821. He could not face the ghastliness of the dissecting 
room. "When I entered that fearful human charnel house, 
littered with fragments of limbs, and saw the ghastly faces and 
cloven heads, the bloody cesspool in which we stood, with its 
reeking atmosphere, the swarms of sparrows fighting for scraps, 
and the rats in the comers gnawing bleeding vertebrae, such 
a feeling of horror possessed me that I leaped out of the window, 
and fled home as though Death and all his hideous crew were 
at my heels/' The inevitable happened, and soon he was skip- 
ping classes to study scores and haunt the Opera. 

From this period dated Berlioz's passion for Gluck, founded 
upon the tremendous impression produced by a performance 
oilphigenu en Tauride. "I vowed as I left the Op6ra that I would 
be a musician come what might, despite father, mother, uncles, 
aunts, grandparents, and friends." Indeed, some time before 
1823 he urgently informed his father of his decision, and a few 
months later was accepted as a private pupil in theory and 
composition by Jean-Frangois Lesueur, For this amiable tradi- 
tionalist Berlioz never lost his appreciative devotion. Although 
lie worked doggedly at music, composing and studying the 
compositions of the great masters of the past, it was not until 
1826 that the Conservatoire opened its doors to this fractious 
innovator whose music was not at all to the taste of its director, 
the stifihecked Cherubini. Meanwhile, Berlioz did everything 
to convince his father that he was a dutiful son (did he not secure 
his bachelier Is sciences physiques in 1824?) and deserved to get his 


big chance. In 1825, ^7 gi n g heavily into debt, he managed to 
secure the first public performance of one of his compositions 
a Mass, most of which he later destroyed. 

Living on an allowance that could be stopped at his father's 
whim, Berlioz looked around frantically for ways of supplement- 
ing this meager sum. For instance, he began to write those 
reviews which eventually were to make him one of the great 
forces in Continental music criticism. He took an occasional 
pupil in voice, flute, or guitar. But his one real hope was the 
hope of any young French composer: winning the Prix de 
Rome, with its reclame, its guarantee of performance and its 
four years of freedom from financial worry* He was to make 
five attempts before winning it. The first time* in 1826, he was 
cast out at the preliminary examination. Dr. Berlioz could not 
understand his failure^ and Hector had to rush back to La 
C6te-Saint-Andre to argue his case through a series of stormy 
sessions. Finally he won a grudging permission to return to 
Paris for a restricted period, diiring which he might become a 
pupil at the Conservatoire. The fiat was: no success, no allow- 
ance. Oddly, Cherubim surpassed himself in unbending he 
actually broke a rule by allowing Berlioz to enter the class in 
theory and Lesueur's in composition, simultaneously instead of 
seriatim, in view of Berlioz's later adoration of Beethoven, it 
is interesting that his fugue and counterpoint professor was 
Anton Reicha, Beethoven's exact contemporary and his col- 
league in the electoral orchestra at Boras. 

Just as life seemed a little less stormy, several blows fell at 
once. Hector's chief creditor, out of sheer kindness of heart, 
wrote to Dr. Berlioz, saying that the repayment of the money 
advanced for the performance o the Mass was proving a terrible 
strain on his son. The righteous doctor repaid it in full and 
temporarily cut off his son's allowance. Not hesitating at all, 
Berlioz decided to live on the scraps from teaching and music- 
reviewing, and right up to 1828, when he won second place 
in the Prix de Rome competition, he lived precisely this way. 
But his life was further complicated by his passion for the 
Anglo-Irish actress, Harriet Constance Smithson.* Just after his 

* Berlioz always referred to her as Henriette; she is familiar to readers of the 
English program notes of the Symphonic fantasttque as Henrietta of the idfafixe. 


second rejection for the Prix (the committee declared his can- 
tata La Mort fOrplue unplayable, a decision confounded by 
the success of later performances), he went to the Paris first 
night of Charles Kemble's production of Hamlet. While this 
new revelation of Shakespeare (as a source of romanticism) 
had a traceable effect on many personages who are known to 
have been in the audience, including Dumas pere, Victor Hugo, 
Sainte-Beuve, Vigny, Gerard de Nerval, and Delacroix, it shat- 
tered Berlioz. 

Just as, a dozen years before, a boy of twelve, he had become 
hopelessly infatuated at first sight with Estelle Duboeuf, a girl 
six years his elder, and had idealized her beyond recognition, 
to the point at which even her symbolic value to him is blurred, 
so now he transformed Hemiette from a mediocre, rather plain- 
looking woman of twenty-seven into a fantastic paragon of age- 
less delight. Part of Estelle's hold on his imagination had been 
derived (he long believed) from her having worn pink shoes, 
a glamorous fact to which Berlioz clung throughout the years 
as to a fetish. Now he undoubtedly confused Henriette with 
the heroine she played, investing her somewhat colorless per- 
sonality with the poetry of Ophelia. From that moment he 
acted like one demented, casting himself in the role of Hamlet. 
Until October, 1833, when he finally persuaded Henriette to 
become Mme Berlioz, he alternately raged, moped and forgot 
to do either. The incredible part of Berlioz's mania was that 
it was not until less than one year before their marriage that he 
met his Ophelia in the flesh. Long before Dowson, he had dis- 
covered the art of being faithful to Cynara in his fashion. He 
pretended that he had written the history of his tempestuous 
emotions about Henriette in the pages of the Symphonie Jan- 
tastique> though the timetable of its composition partly con- 
tradicts him. 

In May, 1828, Berlioz gave a concert of his own music at the 
Conservatoire, Cherubini muttering monumentally to the last. 
The program consisted of the Waverley Overture, extracts from 
the opera Les Francs-Juges, the cantata Scene kero'ique: La revolu- 
tion grecque, and replacing La Mort d'OrpMe> withdrawn at 
the last minute so as not to insult the sensibilities of Cherubini 
and his colleagues the Resztmxit from the Mass. Schumann, 


who thought Waverley delightful, professed to find in it remi- 
niscences of Mendelssohn, which to Berlioz would have been 
a dubious compliment. All that survives of Les Francs-Juges in 
its original form is the familiar overture. Ringing with the fan- 
fares Berlioz loved, it is touched with Weberian romanticism, 
though its rhythms and orchestration are characteristic of 
Berlioz himself. The success of the concert was sufficient to 
lift his spirits a little, and he was sustained on a lofty plain by 
his first reading of Goethe's Faust in Gerard de NervaTs transla- 
tion. His enthusiasm led him at once to begin sketching the 
series of musical incidents that he was to publish, as his Opus i, 
the following year as Huit Scenes de Faust. This Ernest Newman 
once called "the most marvelous Opus i that any composer . . . 
ever produced, . . ." On the other hand, Berlioz was dispirited 
by his third failure to gain the Prix de Rome, though this time 
his effort, a cantata called Herminie and based on episodes from 
Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, gained him the second prize, a gold 
medal whose value he so deprecated that he later pawned it. 
Perhaps even more infuriating were the results of the 1829 
competition, when still another Berlioz cantata La Mart de 
Cleopatre so baffled the jury by its intransigent originality that 
no prize was awarded. 

Meanwhile, Berlioz's passion for Henriette waxed and waned 
and waxed again. As no response to his epistolary protesta- 
tions of fiery longing came from her, it became essential for him 
to exorcise her image. This he did by the best of all methods: 
early in 1830 he burned out his passion in a masterpiece of 
musical confession, the Symphonie jantastique, which, with the 
later autobiographical melologue, LeUo, is subtitled "Episode 
de la vie (fun artiste" Although this gigantic five-movement 
work was put together within four months, parts of it were 
composed earlier, being transferred to it with little change from 
Les Francs-Juges and a never completed Faust ballet; the melody 
of the idee fixe itself was adapted from Herminie. 

As his best-known composition, the Symphonie fantastique 
has tended to crystallize the legend of a Berlioz who bears small 
relation to the mature artist who created such restrained works 
of genius as Romeo et Juliette and Les Troyens. For this, Berlioz 
himself was largely responsible, for few were able to resist the 


extravagant self-advertisement that is Ms printed program for 
this work. As a document comparable in importance to Bee- 
thoven's letter to the "Immortal Beloved," this program must 
be quoted in full: 

A young musician of morbid sensibility and ardent imagination 
is in love, and has poisoned himself with opium in a fit of despera- 
tion. Not having taken a lethal dose, he falls into a long sleep in 
which he has the strangest dreams, wherein his feelings, sentiments, 
and memories are translated by his sick brain into musical ideas and 
figures. The beloved woman herself has become a melody that he finds 
and hears everywhere as an idee fixe. 

First Movement. Reveries, Passions. 

First he remembers the uneasiness of mind, the aimless passions, 
the baseless depressions and elations that he felt before he saw the 
object of his adoration, then the volcanic love that she instantly inspired 
in him, his delirious agonies, his jealous rages, his recovered love, his 
consolations of religion. 

Second Movement. A Ball. 

He meets his beloved at a ball in the midst of the tumult of a bril- 
liant festival. 

Third Movement. Pastoral Scene. 

On a summer evening in the country he hears two shepherds play- 
ing a Ranz des Vaches in dialogue. This pastoral duet, the place, the 
gentle sound of wind in the trees, a few recently conceived grounds of 
hope, all tend to give a new calm to his heart and a brighter color to 
his thoughts. But She appears again. His heart misses a beat; he is 
troubled by grievous forebodings. What if she should deceive him? . . . 

One of the shepherds resumes his simple lay; the other does not 
answer. The sun sets. Distant thunder. Solitude. Silence. 

Fourth Movement. March to the Scaffold. 

He dreams that he has killed his beloved; that he is condemned to 
death and led to the place of execution. The procession moves to a 
march, now gloomy and wild, now brilliant and grand, during which 
the dull sound of heavy footsteps folows abruptly upon the noisiest 

At last the idee fixe reappears for a moment, as a last thought of love, 
cut short by the stroke of death, 



Fifth Movement. Dream of a Witches' Sabbath. 

He finds himself in a witches 5 sabbath, in the midst of a frightful 
crowd of ghosts, sorcerers, and all manner of monsters assisting at 
his entombment. Weird noises, groans, bursts of laughter, distant 
cries echoed by others. The Beloved Melody enters again, but it has 
lost its noble modesty; it has become a vulgar dance-tune, trivial and 
grotesque. SHE has come to the witches' sabbath. 

Roars of joy at her arrival. She joins in the devilish orgies. Funeral 
bells, parody of the Dies Irae. Round dance of the witches. The round 
dance and the Dies Irae are heard together. 

Psychologically, the most significant permutation of the idee 
fixe (Henriette-Ophelia's motive) is its vulgarization in the last 
movement: this meant that Berlioz had released himself tempo- 
rarily from the actress's spell. Musically, the idee fixe serves to 
bind together the five movements, which could not easily be 
related in any other manner. This use of a label motive, though 
not original with Berlioz (it had been used in the earliest operas, 
and Mozart had notably exploited it in Don Giovanni}, was to 
have a sensible influence on his contemporaries and successors. 
Liszt, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Cesar Franck, and Richard Strauss 
all seized upon this device* Not only did Berlioz, by the power 
of his creative vision, naturalize it in instrumental music, but 
he also rescued it from its perfunctory role as a mere ticket,* 
making it a malleable^ protean agent of the musical imagina- 

In judging the Symphonic Jantastique^ it is wise not to con- 
fuse the music with its somewhat overwrought program. Like 
all great creations, it must be judged in terms of the art to 
which it belongs. As music, then, the Symphonie y if not quite 
transcendent in the hierarchy of Berlioz's work, would alone 
entitle him to a place far above that of the merely accomplished 
technicians with whom he competed 3 and near that of the 
masters he revered. The first movement, though thoughtfully 
conceived, does not presage the many remarkable, moving^ and 
novel effects of what follows; the second, based largely on one 
of Berlioz's long-breathed, enchanting melodies, has a rhythmic 

* The label motive has, of course, now become the debased commonplace of 
every screen composer. 


interest quite surpassing that of any earlier waltz and equaling 
the later complexities of Ravel and Richard Strauss; the third 
movement, which pays its respects to Beethoven's "Pastoral/ 3 
could be cited as the locus classicus of romantic melancholy; 
the "March to the Scaffold" is, of course, one of the most excit- 
ing of Berlioz's inspirations here the program could almost be 
written from the music, and nothing could better the descrip- 
tion of its pace than Berlioz's own "now gloomy and wild, now 
brilliant and grand"; the finale apotheosizes the Berlioz of the 
flaming locks, the extravagant emotionalist he pretended to 
believe himself to be only here and in Harold en Italie can be 
found the macabre figure that so many believe falsely to be the 
essential Berlioz, How the echoes of this last movement went 
ringing down the century can best be detected in such a work 
as Mussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain. 

One result of the catharsis effected in Berlioz by composing 
the Symphonic jantastique was that of his finding an Henriette- 
substitute. She turned out to be the cacophonously named 
Marie Moke, an eighteen-year-old pianist with whom Ferdinand 
Hiller was in love. Marie, even at this tender age, was some- 
thing of a loose woman, and was willing to listen to Berlioz. 
In later years, as Mme Gamille Pleyel, she became a most 
eminent pianist, and it is at least possible that Berlioz, more 
romantic than carnal, was enraptured less by the girl than by 
the artist. He found a Shakespearean label for her too, and 
among his intimates was wont to refer to her as Ariel, a long 
remove from Ophelia, but quite as sexless. At first Mile Moke's 
mother looked with extreme disfavor on the penniless suitor, 
but when his cantata La Mart de Sardanapale finally won for him 
the Prix de Rome she quickly changed her mind. By the end of 
1830 Hector and Marie were engaged to be married, though it 
was cautiously stipulated that the marriage should not occur 
until Marie was twenty-one. 

And indeed, momentarily fortune seemed to smile on the 
newly crowned prize-winner. Sardanapale was successfully per- 
formed at its dress rehearsal,* as was, somewhat later, Berlioz's 
fantasy for orchestra, chorus, and two pianos, on Shakespeare's 

* At the performance on October 30, the final section was not played because 
the wind instruments missed their cue a characteristically BerHozian mishap. 


Tempest. It is symbolic of the close association of much of Berlioz's 
early music with his personal life that the Tempest fantasy was 
inspired by Mile Moke (her former love, Hiller, was one of 
the pianists when it was performed), and was later incorpo- 
rated into LKo, a farrago that commented on his affair with her 
much as the Symphonie Jantastique had commented on that with 
Henriette. Then, on December 5, the Symphonie Jantastique was 
given with great success, under the baton of Frangois Habeneck, 
at the Conservatoire. The audience included Fetis, Spontini, 
Meyerbeer, and Liszt. The "Marche au supplice" was encored, and 
Liszt, wrote Berlioz, "carried me off, as it were by force, to 
dine with him, overwhelming me with the most vigorous 
enthusiasm." Even more gratifying to Berlioz's starved vanity 
was Spontini's friendliness: not content with declaring that 
Beethoven alone could have equaled the "Marche au supplice" this 
reigning god of music signalized his young friend's twenty-seventh 
birthday by presenting him with an inscribed score of Olympie, 
worth, the recipient carefully noted, 125 francs. 

Although Italy was next on the schedule for a Prix de Rome 
winner, it scarcely beckoned. Berlioz had no desire to leave his 
Ariel, who might well flit as readily to another as she had flitted 
to him from Hiller. But in order to keep the prize pension, a 
year's residence in Italy was necessary. He tore himself away, 
paid a farewell visit to his family, and arrived in Rome early 
in March, 1831. He was prepared to dislike Rome, and he did. 
He called Italy "a garden peopled, by monkeys/* The truth is 
that his emotional state did not permit him to appreciate any- 
thing except the luxuries of introspection. Staying at the Villa 
Medici, where the Academic de France was located, scarcely 
long enough to meet its director, the painter Horace Vernet,* 
and his fellow-students who ribaldly nicknamed him Father 
Joy because of his lugubrious expression he rushed back to- 
ward France after spending several pleasant days with Men- 
delssohn. There had been no word from Marie, and his inten- 
tion was to return to Paris. Fortunately for him, bad news 
caught up with him at Florence: a letter from Mme Moke an- 

* Vernefs portrait of Mendelssohn, painted at this time, is reproduced facing 
page 255. 


nounced her daughter's marriage to Camille Pleyel, the piano- 

At this juncture, Berlioz behaved like the hero of a farce- 
melodrama. In his Memoires he wrote that his decision was 
made instantly: "It was to go to Paris, where I must kill with- 
out mercy two guilty women and one innocent man [the female 
Mokes and himself]/' His weapons were two pistols, laudanum, 
and strychnine. But he had no intention of being recognized, 
and purchased also the costume of a lady's maid as a disguise. 
At Genoa he found that he had lost the disguise, and promptly 
replaced it. Apparently he tried to do away with himself, an 
action that in a measure dispelled the black humors. At Nice, 
then still Italian territory, he had a change of heart. He wrote 
Vernet to retain his name on the list of pensionnaires of the 
Villa Medici. Vemet sent a friendly reply, and Berlioz settled 
down to a vacation in Nice, where he composed the overture 
Le Roi Lear. Before returning to Rome in June he had also 
begun the sketches for Lelio y ou Le retour a la vie, which as its 
subtitle indicates, he conceived as a pendant to the Symphonie 
fantastique. Before leaving Italy in May, 1832 he somehow 
evaded the stipulation that he remain in Rome for two years 
he had completed Lelio and composed Rob Roy, an overture, 
It is significant that during his eighteen months in Italy he laid 
at least some of the plans for all of his important future works. 

After spending some months with his family, Berlioz re- 
turned to Paris armed to battle once again for fame and fortune. 
December 9, 1832, turned out to be one of the most important 
days of his life: that afternoon he gave a concert that included 
the Fantastique and Lelio. The presence of Harriet Smithson 
in the audience made the choice of works truly symbolic, for 
the first of them dramatized Berlioz's unrequited passion for 
her, and the second, signifying his "return to life" after a vain 
attempt to secure a substitute, implied that the return had been 
to her. Unfortunately for him, her recent attempt to recapture 
the favor of Paris had been a failure, and she was -consequently 
all too ready to listen to his renewed advances. At this point the 
extravagant, romantic Berlioz of legend became a slave to 
duty. It is quite obvious that now his protestations were in- 
spired less by passion than by pity, and indeed he seems like a 


man acting the role of a knight errant. They met, he proposed, 
their families objected (her sister even going so far as to tear up 
a marriage contract). During this prolonged tempest, Berlioz 
for the second time tried suicide, this time by poison, but had 
the forethought to provide himself with an emetic. But, domes- 
tic results apart, the concert of December 9 brought him great 
reclame, Dumas pfa, Hugo, and Paganiai were in the audi- 
ence, and the concert had to be repeated three weeks later. 
This recognition, under ordinary circumstances^ might have 
inspired Berlioz to passionate creative activity, but he was so 
taken up with Henriette's welfare that he concentrated during 
1833 on planning to rescue her from fate. In his spare time 
he planned an assault on the Opera by sketching Beatrice et 
Benedictwhich he completed thirty years later. 

Some of these plans were not without interest. Early in 1 833, 
after Henriette had added a broken leg to her disabilities, Ber- 
lioz organized a benefit concert for her. He besought the help 
of his old friend Liszt and of Chopin, whom he had just met. * 
The profits of this concert were scarcely a stopgap. The finan- 
cial picture stayed bleak, but perversely Berlioz insisted on mar- 
riage. Earlier in the year he had steadfastly refused to carry 
out another Prix de Rome stipulation, a stay in Germany; now 
he threatened Henriette with imminent departure thither un- 
less she married him at once. She capitulated, and finally, after 
he had borrowed three hundred francs on which to marry, he 
made her keep her promise on October 3-f His obligations to 
this flighty, unintelligent, and rather unpleasant woman, for- 
merly sentimental* were now legal. Thenceforth^ but for a brief 
interval, their life together was to be scarcely mitigated torture. 

Berlioz's plans for Henriette did not cease with their mar- 
riage, He next tried to reintroduce her to theatergoers, but so 
poor was her performance that he was forced to realize that their 
menage (swelled in August, 1834, by the birth of a son, Louis) 

* At first it seemed that Berlioz and Chopin were to become friends* But Chopin 
soon cooled Berlioz was too radical for him musically and too flamboyant for him 
personally. In January, 1836, however, they were on sufficiently amicable terms for 
Chopin to assist Berlioz in making a piano-duet arrangement of the overture to 
Le$ Francs- Juges. 

f Eight days after the wedding, Berlioz wrote his friend Humbert Ferrand that, 
to his gratification, he had discovered Henriette to be "as virginal as possible 1 * 
aussi merge gtfil soil possible de Fetre. 


had to be supported by his efforts alone a blessing in disguise, 
for now followed another period of feverish concert-giving, re- 
view-writing, and composing on a large scale. It may have been 
after the very successful concert of December 22, 1833 (or it 
may have been on December 9, 1832), that Paganini made his 
first public obeisance to Berlioz. Then he suggested that Ber- 
lioz provide him with a piece to display his talents as a virtuoso 
on a newly acquired Stradivarius viola. But Berlioz was not the 
man to compose virtuoso pieces to order: the project tenta- 
tively entitled Les Derniers Instans* de Marie Stuart gradually 
evaporated, though the solo viola in Harold en Italie, begun 
shortly afterward, was undoubtedly its indirect result. Remi- 
niscences of Berlioz's travels in Italy soon fused with his ram- 
blings in Byron to produce one of his most spectacular concert 
works, which was completed in June, 1834. Before the year was 
out, Harold had been performed three times with great success, 
and Berlioz had begun an opera based on episodes from the life 
of Benvenuto Cellini. 

In L&liOj Berlioz had exhibited himself in his most fantastic 
phase; with Harold en Italie, after a final Byronic fling, i.e bade 
farewell to attitudinizing. He was never one to do things by 
halves, and Lelio is, formally speaking, a monstrosity, a jerry- 
built structure of shreds and patches. Because it is designed for 
a non-singing actor, as well as for mostly invisible soloists, 
chorus, and orchestra, Lelio should be produced in a theater. 
It requires theatrical properties, among them a couch where 
L61io can recline while reading a book, pistols, and a skull, 
Lelio is not only Hamlet, he is also Berlioz, and he is even Ber- 
lioz's imaginary self a combination of personalities that needs 
a juggler's rather than an actor's ability. Lelio is a protracted 
monologue a "monodrame lyrique" as Berlioz also called it 
interrupted, usually without cause, by dramatic trumpery 
set to various unrelated pieces of music from his files. These 
latter include snippets of the Fantastique, a setting for tenor 
solo of Goethe's poem "Der Fischer" and the fantasia on Shake- 
speare's Tempest. For a chorus of shades he reached back to 
Cleopatre, one of his unsuccessful Prix de Rome submissions. 

* This curious word reflected a momentary trend toward simplified spelling* 


From the critical consensus that little of Lelio is memorable, 
at least the Tempest fantasia must be excepted: not only did 
Berlioz describe it as "new, tender, sweet, and surprising/* but 
those who have been fortunate enough to hear one of its rare 
performances have remarked upon its charm. 

Whereas Lelio was destined for almost instant oblivion (it is 
notable that Liszt, who alone seems to have had an interest in 
keeping it alive, made stringent cuts when he staged it at Wei- 
mar in 1855), Harold en Italie needs only a first-rate violist to 
keep it perennial in the repertoire. Seldom does one of its four 
movements descend from a high level of unceasing musical in- 
ventiveness. Its materials are both attractive and beautifully 
calculated as parts of a large composition. Indeed, Harold, 
which came so close after Lelio, is as perfectly designed as Lelio 
is chaotically strung together. Materials and design alike are 
made luminous by the subtle balance and justness of the instru- 
mentation. The solo viola is so discreetly blended with the 
orchestra as to give Harold more the character of a symphony 
than that of a concerto Chopin, who vehemently denigrated 
the formal structures of Berlioz, might have found a lesson in it. 

Harold en Italie is one of the central romantic masterpieces, 
a judgment easily bolstered by examining each of its four move- 
ments in turn. The first, "Harold in the Mountains, Scenes of 
Melancholy, Happiness, and Joy," is precisely a classical state- 
ment of romantic melancholy. The theme given out by the solo 
viola, hauntingly wistful and unmistakably Berlioz, is used as 
a signature in all the movements. In the second, "March of 
Pilgrims Singing Their Evening Hymns," there are a sobriety 
and a solemnity that portend a new dimension in their com- 
poser. It is an unmonotonous monotony, achieving variety by 
the slightest of shifts. Part three, the "Serenade of an Abruzzi 
Mountaineer to His Mistress," exploits the wind choirs in pro- 
ducing effects that are both tender and exciting. Quite as re- 
markable are the supple use of innately naive rhythmic patterns 
in triple time and the never-ceasing harmonic surprises, which 
are at no time vulgarly shocking. The finale, "Orgy of Brig- 
ands, Recollections of the Preceding Scenes," is not in quality 
up to the other parts, and undeniably has its moments of the 


kind of fiistian and bombast that do not fit even an orgy of 
brigands. During these the solo viola, which otherwise in this 
movement is used only in startling and touchingly lovely remi- 
niscences of the earlier movements, is silent. The actual orgy 
is merely effective theater music. Because of its thematic rela- 
tion to the earlier movements, the fourth movement has been 
compared, doubtless as a compliment, to the choral movement 
of Beethoven's Ninth like it, the least integrated portion of 
the symphony of which it is a part. Fortunately, the somewhat 
shoddy concluding pages of Hardd do not affect retroactively 
the earlier beauties of this splendid creation. 

Now, and for some years to come, the Berlioz family, which 
had moved to a small house in Montmartre, was in sore straits. 
The way ahead was not clear. Knowing full well that musical 
Paris would not take seriously a composer who had not had an 
operatic success, Berlioz worked hard on the score of Benvenuto 
Cellini, even though the libretto had been declined by the 
Opra-Gomique. To support his wife and son, he slaved at jour- 
nalism, which he loathed, and continued to give his artistically 
rewarding, but financially unsuccessful, concerts. It was during 
this period that he finished, from sketches begun some years 
earlier, Le Cinq mai, a cantata on the death of Napoleon. This 
was set to a poem of Pierre-Jean de Beranger, and for the most 
part Berlioz experienced no difficulty in its composition. These 
banal lines, however, proved a stumbling-block; 

Poor soldier, I shall see France again, 
My son's hand shall dose my eyes* 

Before leaving Rome in 1832, Berlioz had been wandering 
absentmindedly along the Tiber one day and slipped into the 
river. At first he was alarmed, but soon realized that getting 
wet was the worst that could happen to him. At this juncture, 
the musical theme for the difficult lines came to his mind, again 
exemplifying the tragicomic element that often accompanied 
his creative activity. Yet the copious lyrical outpouring of this 
period is seemingly devoid of that autobiographical dimension 
which adds piquancy to a view of his large orchestral works. 
Such luscious songs as La Captive, Villanelle, Absence, and Le Spectre 


de la rose* have no program beyond their own texts. They are 
immediately communicative. 

At the beginning of 1836, Berlioz scarcely knew which way 
to turn, for he had now received the final installments of Ms 
Prix de Rome pension. More than ever did he feel the neces- 
sity of finishing Benvewto Cellini, and his income as critic for 
the Journal des debats was insufficient. But in the spring his 
Mend the dramatist Ernest Legouv6 lent him two thousand 
francs, and even Dr. Berlioz (whose wrath at the Smithson 
mesalliance had been mitigated by the arrival of a grandson 
named after himself) sent him a small sum. And he was getting 
a foothold at the Opera through his association with the power- 
ful Bertin family, which controlled the Journal des debats, the 
official newspaper of the Orleanist regime. He helped Louise- 
Angelique Bertin to professionalize her opera Esmeralda^ for 
which Victor Hugo taking episodes from his own Notre-Dame 
de Paris had provided the libretto. Esmeralda failed, but Ber- 
lioz had succeeded in two of his objectives; he had put the Ber- 
lins further in his debt (needless to say, his review of Esmeralda 
in the Journal was not unfavorable), and he now had a foot 
inside the Opera. In March, 1837, that debt began to be paid 
off, when the minister of the interior commissioned Berlioz to 
compose a requiem for the commemoration of the victims of 
the infernal machine used in 1835 by the Italian anarchist 
Fieschi in his unsuccessful attempt on the life of Louis-Philippe. 
The Commission was valued at four thousand francs, and the 
only stipulation the composer made was that he be guaran- 
teed five hundred performers. The minister demurred, and they 
finally compromised at four hundred and fifty. 

Writing to Liszt on May 22, 1837, Berlioz said that he had 
completed the Requiem, but the autograph score is dated June 
29. Even if the latter is the true date of completion, the period 
of time is astonishingly short for the achievement of so vast and 
so magnificent a work. Berlioz said that ideas for it crowded on 

* The last three of these belong to the fine sooag-cyde JVuftr d*tf t set to poems 
by Theophile Gautier 5 and composed in 1834. The others in the cycle are Sur les 
lagunes, Au dmiture^ and I}lle income Ail six were rearranged in 1841, and later 

354 MEN OF 

him so fast that he was obliged to invent a musical shorthand. 
However, the Requiem^ or Grande Messe des marts as it is some- 
times called, contains ideas from earlier works. For instance, 
the renowned Tuba Mirum borrows from Berlioz's earlier 
Resurrexit, and there must be imbedded in the fabric of the 
Requiem material from one of his most fantastic aborts, Le 
Dernier Jour du monde.* No doubt Berlioz was hurrying toward 
a deadline that would allow sufficient rehearsal time for the 
Requiem to be performed on the second anniversary (July 28, 
1837) of the Fieschi attempt. His haste was wasted: official pro- 
crastination staved off performance until Bertin took a hand in 
the proceedings. But even he might not have succeeded had not 
the death of a popular general necessitated a government 
memorial. Eager to stop Berlin's cries of rage r the ministry of 
the interior scheduled the Requiem for performance at the 
Invalides on December 4. When the last echo of the tympani 
had died, Berlioz began actively to wait for the promised four 
thousand francs. He had to wait an unreasonably long time, but, 
as W. J. Turner wrote 3 **. . . he was probably paid quicker than 
anybody else would have been, as his capacity for making a fuss 
and his physical endurance in making it were alike more than 

Even with the modification of forces imposed by the minis- 
try, the Messe des morts calls for a stupendous number of per- 
formers if it is to be given as Berlioz conceived it surely the 
only way to give it. It demands eighty sopranos, eighty altos, 
sixty tenors, seventy basses, fifty violins, twenty Violas, twenty 
cellos, eighteen doublebasses, four flutes, two oboes, two English 
horns, eight bassoons, four clarinets, twelve horns, four cornets, 
twelve trumpets, sixteen trombones, six ophicleides (now re- 
placed by tubas), sixteen tympani, two side drums, four gongs, 
and five pairs of cymbals. The contention that Berlioz might have 
achieved Ms effects with smaller means is irrelevant: the point 

* Conceived first as an oratorio and then as a three-act grand opera, this apoc- 
alyptic conception concerned the machinations of an antichrist finally discomfited 
by the coming of the true Christ, after which, as Berlioz wrote: <c The piece should 
not, Bor can it, be carried further." It was to have soloists, choruses, and two orches- 
tras totaling more than two hundred and sixty instrumentalists. When the director 
of the Opera finally rejected the proposed work, Berlioz's comment was: "He dare 
not accept & w 


is that he achieved them with these, achieved them, too, with- 
out a touch of vulgarity or blatancy. It is merely unfortunate 
that the size of these forces will always prevent the Requiem 
from becoming familiar in full dress. Those who have heard it 
in actual performance a tiny group count it among the super- 
lative musical experiences of their lives. For instance, Schumann 
said of one section: "This Offertory surpasses all!" And W. J. 
Turner, admitting that the single performance he had heard was 
"good without being adequate/' said of another section: "There 
is nothing even in Verdi's magnificent Requiem to compare 
with this Tuba mirum. It is an apocalyptic vision unparalleled, 
unimagined before or since in music." 

The premiere of the Requiem was so successful that, for the 
first time in his life, Berlioz tasted true fame. His various projects 
were pushed ahead by this new reclame, and soon he learned 
that Benvenuto Cellini had been accepted by the Opera, though 
unhappily it could not be scheduled until new operas by Auber 
and Hal6vy could be staged. There was some organized opposi- 
tion, largely because of Berlioz's connection with the govern- 
ment paper. Anyhow, it was not until September 10, 1838, that 
his music was heard for the first time at the Opera. The overture 
was applauded; the rest of Benvenuto Cellini was hissed. Grimly, 
Berlioz pretended that the reaction to the second and third 
performances was better, but even if this was true the cause of 
the opera was hopeless after Gilbert Duprez, the leading tenor, 
dropped out. The opera was sung once more four months later, 
and that was all. 

Be it said that it would have taken a mature Mozart who 
had already threaded his way through the mazes of Die Dauber- 
fiote to make anything of the complex libretto provided by 
L6on de Wailly and Auguste Barbier. By 1844, Berlioz, perhaps 
convinced that Cellini would never be given again, worked up 
some of its most attractive melodies and fused them together 
into the dashing and ever-popular overture, Carnaval romain. 
In 1851, however, Liszt, then musical director at Weimar, 
expressed a desire to stage the opera there. Originally Cellini 
had been a two-acter; to Weimar, Berlioz delivered a three-act 
version for which Peter Cornelius provided a German text. 


Liszt made the opera successful, and he frequently repeated it. 
Germany, indeed, continued to appreciate Cellini, though it 
has never been naturalized elsewhere. Outside Germany, Ben- 
mnuto Cellini is not likely to be heard (except for a pious, patriotic 
French revival now and then), and except for Le Carnaval 
romain only the original overture to the opera itself can be known 
to a large audience. 

Berlioz's despair over the reception of Cellini was aggra- 
vated by a further disappointment, this time from an official 
quarter: he had applied for the professorship in harmony at 
the Conservatoire, and had been turned down. The reason 
given was that he could not play the piano.* The blow was 
softened, somewhat later, by his appointment as assistant 
librarian of the Conservatoire. But what really lifted him from 
his despondency resulted from Paganinfs presence at a per- 
formance of Hardd en Italie. The satanic violinist was hearing 
for the first time music he had indirectly inspired. He knelt at 
Berlioz's feet, an act followed, two days later, by a more sub- 
stantial gesture: by his young son he sent Berlioz a draft on the 
Rothschild bank for 20,000 francs, accompanying it with the 
following letter: 

My dear Friend, Beethoven is dead, and Berlioz alone can revive 
him. I have heard your divine compositions, so worthy of your genius, 
arid beg you to accept, in token of my homage, twenty thousand francs, 
which will be handed to you by the Baron de Rothschild on presenta- 
tion of the enclosed. Your most affectionate friend, Nicolb PaganinL 

While it is not beyond the bounds of credibility that Paganini 
was giving away his own money, It has been said that the real 
source of the gift was the Bertin family, who had tactfully used 
Paganini as their agent in order to spare Berlioz's sensibilities. 
Freed for a time from journalistic hackwork and the specter 
of penury, Berlioz used the first nine months of 1839 to com- 
pose the richest of his tributes to Shakespeare. This was the 
"dramatic symphony,** Rom^o et Juliette , which he gratefully, 
if inappropriately, dedicated to Paganini. When, with Berlioz 

* Berlioz was entirely free of the increasing nineteenth-century tendency to 
think in terms of the piano. He thought directly in orchestral terms, and he suffers 
more than most in piano transcription. 


conducting, it was performed by two hundred instrumentalists 
and singers at the Conservatoire on November 24, 1839, it was 
so enthusiastically received that he repeated it twice during 
December, each time in slightly revised form. While success 
elated his spirits, his finances were not substantially improved: 
the three concerts netted him only eleven hundred francs. 

Because Romeo et Juliette is still rarely performed, a legend 
persists that it is a formless and extremely uneven collection 
of scenes. Familiarity with this music teaches that, despite the 
modicum of truth in this legend, this delicately strung necklace 
of beautifully fashioned musical effects has quite as much formal 
unity as certain of Berlioz's works that have achieved one 
almost wonders how the canon of respectability. The totality 
of Romeo is much more than a matrix in which are imbedded 
the scintillant Queen Mab scherzo, the ecstatic Love Scene, 
the gaily tumultuous Grand Fete at the Gapulets', and other 
sections of varying quality. Rather, it is the dramatic succession 
of the episodes and their final congruity (not necessarily Shake- 
speare's), reverently achieved. The element that inimical critics 
have sneeringly castigated as fragmentariness is really an 
exquisite use of music's unique ability to be all suggestiveness 
and evocation. It had been enough for a Bellini to have set 
the feuds of the Capulets and the Montagues: Berlioz's music 
is about quite another thing Shakespeare's poetry. This is the 
secret of his grand isolation as a program composer. He neglected 
the events and concerned himself with what music can best 
complement, atmosphere and essence. If Romeo et Juliette has 
flaws, they come precisely at those moments when Berlioz 
deserts atmosphere and essence for other dimensions. Thus, the 
long moral tract intoned by Friar Laurence has a Meyerbeerian 
orotundity that is true to the words sung, but momentarily 
blighting to the overall spirit. Fortunately, the effect of this 
curiously inept official laying of the funeral wreaths is soon 
obliterated by the memory of the sweet and grave intensity of 
the earlier sections of this unquestionable masterpiece. 

Although no government position opened up for Berlioz, 
it seemed, in 1839 and 1840, as though France had begun to 
consider him a national asset. First he was made a Chevalier 


of the Legion of Honor, and then he received anotner big 
commission, this time to supply music to accompany the re- 
interment of patriots who had fallen during the July revolu- 
tion ten years before. His various ideas quickly cohered into 
the largest composition ever written for military band, the 
Symphonie funebre et triomphale. Berlioz, who feared the usual mis- 
haps attendant on public ceremonies, took the precaution of 
asking a large assembly of notables to the final rehearsal. 
Fortunately so, for he reports that, as played during the parade 
on July 28, the Symphonie was all but drowned out by the clamor 
of the crowd and finally by the beating of fifty drums as a bored 
corps of the Garde National marched off. And all this despite 
the enormous forces collected to give full weight to the Symphonie 
augmented military band and a chorus of two hundred voices. 

The Symphonie funebre et triomphale is truly a carefully executed 
piece ^occasion. Gone from it are the subtleties and niceties of 
Berlioz's orchestral writing, and gone too are those delicately 
related episodes which are at the core of his dramatic idiom. 
Here he submerged himself and dedicated his unparalleled 
instrumental technique strictly to the business at hand to a 
rhythmically dignified Marche funebre, an appropriate Oraison 
funebre with an extensive and telling trombone solo, and a 
jubilant Apotheose. Wagner, who heard a somewhat revised 
version of the Symphonie, thought it the best of Berlioz's works up 
to that time, and wrote of the Apotheose, with its mighty fan- 
fares: "Berlioz has a gift for popular writing of the best kind. 
I felt that every urchin with a blue blouse and a red bonnet 
would understand this music thoroughly." It is amusing that 
Wagner had been content to dismiss the Berlioz of Romeo et 
Juliette as "devilishly smart."* 

After the Symphonie funebre et triomphale, Berlioz did not com- 
plete a major work for six years. This artistic inactivity reflected 
the sad state of his domestic affairs, giving point to the oft- 
repeated idea that he was dogged by ill luck a large part of 
his life. Just when he was beginning to receive substantial 

* The first complete American performance of the Symphonie funebre et triomphale 
was given on the Mall in Central ?ark, New York, by the Goldman Band> on June 
2 3> 1947- 


worldly recognition, his marriage to the Henriette of his dreams 
went to pieces. In eight years she had become a fat, blowsy, 
and shrewish woman whose sole virtue was loyalty to him, but 
a loyalty perverted by jealousy into a vice. Her tantrums left 
Berlioz limp and drove their seven-year-old son into hysterics. 
Sentimentality alone held Berlioz to her, but finally increasing 
separation became essential to his peace of mind and he 
foolishly fled to the arms of another woman with whom he was 
to repeat, with little change, the cycle of Henriette. This woman 
was Marie-Genevieve Martin, who for the operatic stage had 
adopted the name of Marie Recio. Berlioz first heard her in the 
role of Ines in Donizetti's La Fauorita, and was more impressed 
by her fine figure than by her middling voice. By 1842, when he 
set out for Brussels, she accompanied him as his mistress. Now 
his financial difficulties were complicated by the necessity of 
keeping up two households. He soon came to realize that he had 
exchanged one shrew for another, but so inextricably was he 
held in Marie's toils that within seven months of Henriette's 
death, in 1854, he married her. 

Now succeeded a long period of wanderings throughout 
Europe, possibly calculated as much to escape his domestic 
troubles as to enhance his fame and fill his pockets. Also, two 
failures wounded him deeply: first, he did not succeed to 
the Institut chair left vacant by the death of Cherubini; second,, 
he was passed over for the inspectorship of singing in the primary 
schools* Unless he was to devote his time to journalism, it 
seemed to Berlioz that the only hope lay outside France. After 
two concerts in Brussels in December, 1842, he made what was 
largely a triumphal tour through Germany, not returning to 
Paris for five months. He was rightly acclaimed, for as a conduc- 
tor he was without a peer. En route, he met, or renewed ac- 
quaintance with, Schumann, Meyerbeer, Wagner, and Men- 
delssohn. With the last, who disliked Berlioz's music violently, 
he exchanged batons. He was delighted to learn that some of his 
compositions had found great favor in Germany, notably the 
overture to Les Francs-Juges, parts of the Fantastique, and the 
cantata Le Cinq mat. 

From May, 1843, Berlioz remained in France for over two 


years 2 during which time he composed the Carnaval romatn and 
the first version of the Corsaire overture (La Tour de Nice), 
published his Traite de F instrumentation et orchestration (which 
he listed among his musical works as Opus 10) and Voyage 
musical en Allemagne et en IUdie > the first installments of his pun- 
gent musical reminiscences,* He was often outside Paris, no 
doubt recuperating from too much of Henriette (the generously 
provided-for invalid never ceased to throw out martyr's ten- 
tacles) and from too much of Marie and her Spanish mother. 
By August 3 1845, Berlioz was sufficiently calm to represent 
the Journal des debits at the unveiling of the Beethoven monu- 
ment at Bonn. There, again, he was warmly greeted by Liszt, 
who had enlisted his help, some years before, to raise a part 
of the miserly sum that France contributed to the memorial. 
There, too, he witnessed the tumultuous scenes that succeeded 
on Liszt's calling attention to the regrettable phenomenon of 
French parsimony. 

Thus far, Berlioz's nomad years had borne small fruit, Now, 
during 1846, a year marked by the adulation of crowds in 
Austria, Bohemia, Germany, and Hungary, and by the gift of 
a purse of eleven hundred francs from the mad Emperor 
Ferdinand (who confessed himself "amused"), he found time 
to work out the revision of that remarkable Opus i, Huit Scenes 
ck Faust (1828-29). At IBBS along the way, in jolting postchaises, 
wherever he could snatch a few minutes alone, he thought and 
sketched, transforming that cantata with solo numbers into the 
"dramatic legend" he called La Damnation de Faust. Some dis- 
parate elements went into its fabrication* For instance, he took 
the liberty of transporting Faust to the plains of Hungary in 
order to include his orchestral version of the traditional Hun- 
garian Rakoczy March y written in one night at Vienna for use 

* Berlioz salvaged other considerable portions of his journalistic work in three 
enchanting of criticism and gossip: Les Soirees de I'otchestre (1853), Les 
Grotesques de la musique (1859), and A trovers Chants (1862). Parts of the Voyage 
musical were mosaicked into the M&moires. Witty and acute, and abounding in 
memorable phrases, and prophetic judgments, these writings, in a century,, have 
lost none of their vitality. They have the fascination of fiction (and, indeed, Berlioz 
was not averse to creating a legend so as to point a moral) and the solidity of great 
criticism. In the use of the printed word, he is not the peer of Schumann and 
Wagner, but their master. 


at Budapest some days later. Finished in October, La Damna- 
tion^ at its first performance, in Paris on December 6 3 only half 
filled the Op6ra-Comique, and was received coldly. Two weeks 
later, its second performance was an utter failure. At this point 
Berlioz, again let down by the Paris he so loved, may have 
wished that he had not prevented his name from being placed 
in nomination for the directorship of the Imperial Chapel in 

Time was when it was relatively easy to hear La Damnation 
de Faust even outside France, but now, paradoxically, with 
the vogue for Berlioz increasing, it has dropped outside the 
plans of our musical dictators, in this apparently sharing the 
fate of all but a few works that partake of the nature of oratorio. 
Nor is it any longer heard adapted as an opera. Few losses to 
the variety and vitality of the repertoire are greater, for it con- 
tains some of Berlioz's most dramatic pages. If in Romeo et 
Juliette Berlioz's music is about the poetry of Shakespeare, in 
La Damnation de Faust it is as little as possible about Goethe's 
philosophico-poetic melange. In its best sections, Berlioz has, 
in fact, Shakespeareanized Goethe. World-famous, in addition 
to the Rakoczy March^ and always to be heard, are the Minuet 
of the Will-o'-the- Wisps and the Dance of the Sylphs, but equally 
alluring is much of the vocal music, especially Marguerite's 
wistful soliloquy, Le Rot de ThuU^ Faust's sumptuous invoca- 
tion, "Immense nature" and MephistopMles' lush and seduc- 
tive "Void des roses" La Damnation de Faust is an album of 
wonderfully poetic, economically composed scenes, almost 
always not usually a Berliozian merit of heavenly length. Of 
all these composers, great or otherwise Liszt, Wagner, Gounod, 
and Boito included who have gone to the Faust story for 
inspiration (or puzzlement), Berlioz, at least in returning richly 
laden, is facile princeps. 

In 1847, Berlioz tried his luck in Russia, conducting in St. 
Petersburg, Moscow, and Riga. Throughout this tour, his 
artistic success was monumental, his profits satisfactory. A 
piquant note was added by a passing and innocent romance 
with a young Russian corset-maker (his taste in women was 
never to gain in relevance): this was probably a necessary 


respite from the complaints of the now-paralyzed Henriette 
and the tirades of the shrewish Marie. Returning toward France, 
Berlioz lingered at Berlin to conduct a performance of La 
Damnation de Faust under the double patronage of Friedrich 
Wilhelm IV and Meyerbeer. The Prussian king complimented 
him, but the higher critics were incensed by what they con- 
sidered his cavalier treatment of Goethe, and sulked loftily. He 
returned to Paris with one tenth of the i5O,ooo-franc profit 
Balzac had prophesied for the tour, commenting dryly: "This 
great mind had the weakness of seeing fortunes everywhere . . ." 
A summer visit to La C6te-Saint-Andr6 prepared him for the 
disasters of the coming season. 

By November Berlioz was in England for the first time, having 
been engaged by Louis- Antoine Jullien, one of the prime fan- 
tastics of the age,* to conduct four concerts and a season of 
opera at Drury Lane, including the world premiere of a three- 
act opera composed especially for this English season. Although 
Jullien's plans were on an unrealistically vast scale, his arrange- 
ment with Berlioz, apparently generous, was, on analysis, on 
the cautious side: 400 for the opera-conducting, 400 for the 
concerts, and 800 for the new opera if it reached a seventieth 
performance. As it worked out, Berlioz touched only the first of 
these moneys, for shortly Jullien was suffering from one of his 
numerous bankruptcies. The opera season had opened aus- 
piciously with the triumphant success of Lucia di Lammermoor, 
but the profits were quickly eaten up by fees to the expensive 
official window-dressing (Sir Henry Bishop and others, whom 
Jullien had ostentatiously engaged to advise him). By January, 
1848, the season could be chalked up as a failure. But Berlioz 
remained stubbornly in London: he liked the English, and was 
dismayed at the idea of returning to a revolution-torn France 
(Louis-Philippe was overthrown in February, and not until 
December were conditions somewhat stabilized by the election 

* THs madman was a strange compound of the best and the worst. He had such 
a reverence for Beethoven that he would conduct his works only with a jeweled 
baton and wearing a pan: of white kid gloves handed to him on a silver salver just 
before the performance. He was once barely dissuaded from publishing a setting 
of the jLord's Prayer with this legend engraved on the title page: "Words by Jesus 
Christ; Music by Juilien." 


of Louis-Napoleon as president). He was not inactive, and 
between two successful concerts he began to put together those 
Memoires which give him pre-eminence as a musical litterateur. 
When he finally returned to Paris in July, The Musical Times, 
anticipating the fame Berlioz was later to enjoy in England, 
commented: "We feel that a great and original mind has gone 
from among us/' 

The Paris to which Berlioz returned was in its doldrums, and 
it was difficult to give concerts or work as a musical journalist. 
Fortunately, his financial prospects brightened. In July his father 
died, and he could hope eventually to receive a legacy of 
130,000 francs. In the meanwhile, he could borrow against this. 
In November, too, any fears he may have entertained about his 
relations to the new regime were quieted when the National 
Assembly, which had cut off his salary at the Conservatoire, 
voted him five hundred francs to encourage his efforts as a com- 
poser, and his position in the Conservatoire library was con- 
tinued. By 1849, & e was again hard at work as critic for the 
Journal des debats and the Gazette musicale. The composition 
of a Te Deum was proceeding simultaneously: possibly the 
waxing of Louis-Napoleon's star gave Berlioz the not unnatural 
hope that mighty events might soon be commemorated by 
mighty music. But the third Bonaparte was apathetic to art, and 
this enormous work for three choirs, orchestra, and organ had 
to wait six years for a performance, when, in the Church of 
Saint-Eustache, Berlioz conducted it, on April 30, as a prelude 
to the opening of the Exposition Universelle of 1855. As a 
comment on Berlioz's shrewd and economic borrowings from 
himself, it is amusing to note that parts of the Te Deum date 
back to sketches for an apotheosis of Napoleon I, which had 
been pondered in Italy in 1832. 

The Te Deum is one of those too-numerous compositions of 
Berlioz's about which, as a listening experience, it is all but 
impossible to write at first hand. Examination of the score and 
the testimony of musical observers of the past easily persuade 
us that the Te Deum should be resurrected. Berlioz himself 
called the Judex crederis> its seventh section, "my most gran- 
diose creation," and Tom S. Wotton, one of the most sapient 


of Berliozians, pronounced it "amongst the greatest movements 
in music," adding that "it alone should place Berlioz amongst 
the supreme masters of the art," Apparently it is a high spot in 
the music of terror, the opposite number to Michelangelo's 
Last Judgment. Not all of the eight sections of the Te Deum 
are of this oppressive mightiness; several of them are of per- 
suasive lyrical beauty. Throughout, Berlioz makes the most 
discreet use of his big choral batteries, reserving them for the 
true dimaxes. And the use of the organ, too, marks Berlioz's 
supremacy in the understanding of instruments: not merely 
does it add its diapasons to the most tremendous cascades of 
sound, but it is also used tenderly as a solo performer, notably 
in the prelude to the second section, Tibi omnes. As any Te 
Deum is in a real sense a puce d'oc^asion, Berlioz's might lose 
some of its effectiveness if given apart from a large celebration 
of a jubilant nature. * 

While in England, Berlioz had been impressed by the Phil- 
harmonic Society, the conduct of whose instrumentalists he 
excepted from his condemnation of the casualness of English 
musicians. In 1850, he attempted to establish its counterpart 
in Paris. The first concert of the Societ6 Philharmonique was 
given on February 19, with the nineteen-year-old Joachim as 
soloist; little more than a year later, on March 25, 1851, the 
Soci6t, soon to breathe its last, presented Berlioz's new choral 
work 3 ominously entitled La Menace des Francs. More impor- 
tant, during this period Berlioz was working on. La Fuite en 
Egypte^ eventually to become the second part of L'Enfance du 
Christ. He tried out part of La Fuite late in 1850, incidentally 
perpetrating a malicious practical joke on the critical pundits 
of the French capital. He announced this little chorus of shep- 
herds as the work of "Pierre Ducre, music-master of the Sainte- 
Ghapelle in Paris in the seventeenth century" and only one 
critic seemed to imply that Ducre was a figment of Berlioz's 
imagination: Leon Kreutzer 2 probably tipped off by the joker 
himself, remarked in the Gazette musicale that this music "was 

*The Te Deum, conducted by Walter Daroroschj was sung at the opening of 
Music (later Carnegie) Hall, New York, on May 5^ 1891. 


very happily modulated for a period when they scarcely modu- 
lated at all/ 5 

After the failure of the Soci6t6 PMharmonique, Berlioz was 
sent, as the official representative of French music, to the Great 
Exhibition of 1851, held in London's new Crystal Palace. While 
in England, he completed negotiations to become for six years 
the conductor of the New Philharmonic Society, a post he 
assumed the following year. He must have gone to London that 
time with some reluctance, for on March 20, 1852, Liszt staged, 
at Weimar, the first performance of Benvenuto Cellini since 
its original failure thirteen years before. Four days later, at 
Exeter Hall, Berlioz led the orchestra of the New Philharmonic 
Society in its first concert, presenting the first four parts of 
Romeo et Juliette in English translation. Another concert was 
a more dramatic occasion: he conducted excerpts from La Ves- 
tale with a baton brought to London by Spontini's widow, and 
which the great classicist had used in directing the operas of 
Gluck and Mozart. On April 28, Berlioz's program included 
Weber's Conzertstuck, with the piano solo confided to his former 
inamorata, Mme Camille PleyeL Things went badly during the 
Weber, but after this lapse of years it is impossible to tell whether 
her charge that the conductor had bungled the accompaniment 
was true or catty. No doubt, however, about Berlioz's stature 
as a conductor was left after two magnificent readings of Bee- 
thoven's Ninth Symphony. Yet, though the press was wildly 
laudatory and the glories of these concerts lingered in the minds 
of musical London for years, the season ended with a deficit, 
and Berlioz's contract lapsed. 

Fortunately, the disappointment of the London venture was 
mitigated by Liszt's decision to set aside a week in November, 
1852, for a Berlioz festival. At Weimar, Berlioz was lionized 
wherever he went, and Benvenuto Cellini,, Romeo et Juliette, and 
the first two parts of La Damnation cte Faust (Cellini under Liszt's 
baton, the others led by the composer) were received with the 
applause that his music was eliciting throughout Germany. At 
a banquet, the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar bestowed upon 
him the Order of the Falcon. This uninterrupted ovation was 
the beginning of a series of visits to Germany that lasted until 


September, 1856. In the midst of his triumphs, Berlioz's cool- 
headed wit did not desert him: he noted that when Bettina von 
Arnim, the now-decrepit lady who had been Beethoven's friend 
and Goethe's Egeria, called on him, she said that she had come 
"not to see me, but to look at me." His German canonization 
may be said to have taken place when he conducted two Gewand- 
haus concerts in December, 1853: Liszt, Brahms, Cornelius, 
Joachim, Raff, and Eduard Remenyi were in the audience. This 
unreserved acclaim must have intensified Berlioz's mortification 
when, at the height of his German triumph, the news came to 
him that he had again been passed over for a seat in the Institut, 
lor a nonentity as usual. 

On March 3, 1 854, the official Mme Berlioz finally died. Three 
days later, Berlioz wrote to his son, now an apprentice seaman: 
"You will never know what we have suffered from one another, 
your mother and I ..." Considering the circumstances, it is 
not at all strange that he was able, less than a month later, to 
conduct a concert at Hanover with vigor and success. All in 
all, Henriette's death was a great release, and after a decent 
interval he married Marie Recio. Again he wrote to Louis: 
"This liaison, as you will readily understand, had become 
indissoluble from the mere facts of its duration; I could neither 
live alone nor abandon the person who had been living with 
me for fourteen years." This sounds like a conscientious man's 
excuse for a bad habit he could not relinquish, and Marie is 
never mentioned by name in the Memoires. In the meantime, 
another official post had eluded his grasp when Liszt and Hans 
von Billow failed to get him appointed to the Hoftheater at 
Dresden and this despite the superb series of concerts Ber- 
lioz had just conducted there. Yet 1854 was important to him 
for more than the death of Henriette and his marriage to 
Marie: before it was over he had completed the Memoires (except 
for a few later additions) and VEnfance du Christ. 

At the Salle Herz, Paris, on December 10, 1854, Berlioz con- 
ducted the premiere of this oratorio or "sacred trilogy," the 
first of his works for which he wrote the entire text. Its success 
was so immediate and unmixed (five performances in Paris 


and three in Brussels in four and a half months) that Berlioz 
was almost embittered by it, as he felt that it tended to cast 
doubt retroactively on the quality of earlier works composed 
in quite different spirit. For VEnfance du Christ is primarily 
meditative and pastoral, and is often lighted by a sort of antique, 
lyrical grace. The scoring is delicate, the orchestra small. 
The first section, Le Songe d'Herode, centers on the obsessive fears 
of the neurasthenic King of Judaea, and ends, with a dramatic 
change of scene, in the manger at Bethlehem, where a choir 
of angels warns Mary and Joseph to flee. Part two, La Fuite 
en Egypte^ consists of a brief overture followed by two sections 
of extraordinary beauty: L' 'Adieu des bergers, a piercingly sweet 
vocal melodic line exquisitely caressed by the oboe, and Le 
Repos de la Sainte-Famille > the tenor-narrator's simple comment 
on a poignantly touching situation. The third section of VEn~ 
fance is called L'Arrivie a Sais* Here Mary and Joseph seek 
lodging, knocking vainly at doors until at the home of the 
Ishmaelites they are finally admitted. This pitiable situation is 
made the most of, and the section ends in a choral epilogue 
about which Berlioz himself wrote ecstatically: "It seems to me 
to contain a feeling of infinite, of divine love/' 

Berlioz's friendship with Liszt reached its height during 1855 
and 1856. He made three visits to Weimar, the first time to 
attend another Berlioz week, for which Raff had written a 
Latin cantata in his honor. He found a new intimate in Liszt's 
mistress, Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, a woman with a 
vigorous cast of mind, a busy pen, and a quenchless box of 
black cigars a true original for whom Berlioz felt a kinship. 
It was in April, 1855, that she forthrightly directed him to 
compose an opera based on the Aeneid, thereby pulling together 
various ideas that had been floating around in his mind. These 
concerned the composition of a big opera, a project that he 
himself had at times vaguely connected with his childhood 
worship of Virgil. For one month short of three years he was 
to be intermittently at work on the libretto and score of what 
turned out to be a five-act opera, Les Troyens. Before it was 
finished, Berlioz had again conducted in London, had composed 


L'lmpfrialt,* a cantata for the closing of the Paris Exposition 
(which the Te Deum had ushered in), and had received a gold 
medal from Napoleon III. Intellectually, he was refreshed by 
several meetings with Wagner, who at this period reciprocated 
his feelings. Finally, his ego was elated by that prize after which 
he had so long yearned, election to the Institut, in which he 
succeeded to the fauteuil left vacant by the death of Adolphe 

Although Berlioz by this time enjoyed some financial security, 
this was outweighed by increasing torture from what his phy- 
sicians called "neuralgia of the stomach/' a vague term that 
precise modern medical nomenclature does not recognize. 
Doubtless this was a neurasthenic condition brought on by 
thwarted ambition and exacerbated by hopes delayed. Never- 
theless, Les Trcyens progressed. He discussed the finest points 
with Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein by letter, but the final text was 
as completely his own as the music. The entire five-act opera 
lay complete on his desk by March, 1858. Then began the grim, 
disheartening fight to have it produced. At first it seemed that 
the Op6ra would mount it 3 perhaps even like Tannhauser 
at Napoleon IIFs behest. 

Suddenly, and rather paradoxically, after the failure of 
Tannhauser (which must have seemed to the directorate a most 
radical work), the Opera decided, in June, 1861, to stage Les 
Troyens. Then for almost two years the directors kept Berlioz 
dangling, and at one time definitely scheduled the staging for 
March, 1863. While he alternately hoped and despaired, 
tragedy and success were his ia equal portions. In 1 860, partly 
to relieve his nerves, he had accepted a commission to compose 
a comic opera, and had elected to write his own libretto to 
Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, calling it Beatrice et 
Benedict. This was for Baden-Baden, the cosmopolitan spa whose 
music festivals, sponsored by the proprietor of the casino, Berlioz 
iiad been conducting since 1856. Beatrice et Benedict, completed 
in the spring of 1862, was presented successfully at the festival 
the following August, but in June, Berlioz's second wife had 

* Perhaps "dusted off** is a better phrase, for Ulmperide appears to have been 
identical with Le Dix decembre y presented earlier that year. 


died suddenly, and he conducted in physical pain and mental 
anguish. As the crucial month of March, 1863, came and went, 
and the Opera failed to stage Les Troyens^ the weary composer 
began to listen to the entreaties of Leon Carvalho, who wished 
to stage a section of the long opera at his Theitre-Lyrique. 
Berlioz, who above all wished to hear his opera performed 
before he died, agreed with misgivings. Then he went to Weimar, 
where Beatrice et Benedict was sung in German translation. In 
June he conducted L'Enfance du Christ at the Lower Rhine 
Festival at Strasbourg. Finally, on November 4, the last three 
acts of Les Troyens rearranged as five acts, and provided with 
a prologue especially written to acquaint the audience with the 
preceding two acts reached the stage as Les Troyens a Carthage. * 
It had a dress rehearsal and twenty-one performances. This 
was the only part of his great opera that Berlioz ever heard, and 
it was not until twenty-one years after his death that Felix 
Mottl, Wagnerian extraordinary, nobly staged Les Troyens whole 5 
though in German, at Karlsruhe. 

The spirit of Les Troyens is as far removed from that of the 
Sympkonie Jantastique and Lelia as music could well be and 
still be recognizably the same composer's. Here at last is Ber- 
lioz's eloge to Gluck, the more glorious because so long medi- 
tated. This is not, in any sense that Weber, Schumann, or the 
young Berlioz himself would have admitted, romantic music; 
it is a classical work with romantic touches derived faithfully 
from Virgil or it is a romantic work in classical leading- 
strings. At all events, it exists to confound those who would 
rigorously parcel off areas with little signs marked "classical** 
and "romantic." 

This tremendous tale of the taking of Troy, the loves of 
Dido and Aeneas, and Aeneas's departure to keep his date with 
destiny (as the opera closes, the chorus chants, "Rome! Rome!" 
and the Capitol looms in the background like a Mediterranean 
Valhalla) runs for four hours and a half, not counting inter- 
missions. Opera managers, willing to subject their patrons to 
Parsifal at least once a year, can find reasons for depriving these 
same patrons of Berlioz's masterpiece. Therefore, it is possible 

* The fiist part, given alone, is known as La Prise de Troie* 


to judge the quality of Les Troyens only from the printed score, 
from excerpts, whether recorded or heard in the concert hall, 
and from, the reports of those fortunate musical observers who 
heard the Karlsruhe performance of 1890 or the Glasgow revival 
of 1935, the latter disclosing it, as Sir Donald Tovey testified, 
"as one of the most gigantic and convincing masterpieces of 
music-drama/ 5 Even a knowledge of Les Troyens confined to 
Hylas's "Vallan sonore" Aeneas's "Inuliles regrets" the Marche 
troyenne, and the Chasse rqyale et orage would persuade us to 
echo this pronouncement. Les Troyens, quite as much as Rom'eo 
et Juliette, leads inevitably to the conclusion that Berlioz was 
the greatest French composer between Rameau and Debussy. 
Les Troyens would have been a fitting capstone to Berlioz's 
career. In it, as Cecil Gray wrote, ". . . he is a classical master 
in the pure Latin tradition; the volcanic, tempestuous energy 
of the early works gives place to a majestic dignity and restraint 
worthy of Sophocles himself, and to a serenity and sweetness 
that can only be called Virgilian." But though it was the last of 
his major works to reach performance, Beatrice et Benedict was 
the last of them to be composed. This two-acter is both an 
opera-comique in the French sense (it has spoken dialogue) and 
a comic opera in the English sense (it is amusing and has a happy 
ending). Again, though Beatrice et Benedict has been compared 
by W. J. Turner to such masterpieces of the comic spirit as 
Le Nozze di Figaro, The Barber of Seville, and Falstaf, it has been 
almost utterly neglected, and must be judged, as we are forced 
to judge Les Troyens, chiefly at second hand. Its overture is 
light and deft, a pleasant concert number, but by 110 means so 
ingeniously conceived and executed as many of the scenes in 
the opera. It would be pleasant to record that this light, witty 
music reflected an eventide serenity like that reflected in Verdi's 
Falstaf: that it was written in the depths of spiritual malaise 
makes it almost a miracle. One of its most charming scenes is 
built around an idea added to the story by Berlioz the rehearsal 
of a fugal epithalamium by inept singers and instrumentalists. 
In part reminiscent of the drolleries of the "Lesson Scene" in 
The Barber, this also recalls the Beckmesser episodes in Die 
Meister singer, for it can be interpreted as Berlioz's way of getting 


back at the petty pedantries of academic music professors and 

Berlioz's creative life ended with Beatrice et Benedict, but his 
emotional struggles were still not resolved. Publicly, he pro- 
ceeded slowly to an apotheosis, refuting in advance the legend, 
manufactured by sentimental biographers, that he was without 
honor in his lifetime. In private he was a lonely and tortured 
man. His wants tended by Marie's mother, he focused his 
unquenchable hopes momentarily on a young girl whom he 
met some time in 1863. But Amelie no more is known of her 
than her first name died too, and Berlioz was again left alone. 
He poured out his moods in letters to his son Louis, who, despite 
his unstable temperament, was rising in the merchant marine. 
In the autumn of 1864 his melancholy drew him to revisit the 
scenes of his childhood to, in fact, the Estelle country. He 
was seized by an urge to see his early ideal again (the idee fixe 
of the Fantastique was as much her signature as Henriette- 
Ophelia's), and somehow sought her out at Lyons. The grand- 
motherly Mme Fornier was polite and sympathetic, but ob- 
viously mystified. When he mentioned the well-remembered 
pink shoes, she denied ever having owned any perhaps they 
seemed improper to her. Anyhow, with due caution, she allowed 
Berlioz to correspond with her, and even sent him her portrait. 
Here was no answer to his loneliness. There was no answer. 

The young Berlioz had felt himself separated from his fellows 
by his fiery romanticism; now, at the end of his career he must 
have appeared as austerely classical as Cherubim himself. 
Thus the inevitable sum at the end of every equation was lone- 
liness. For instance, though Liszt visited him in Paris, and their 
relations were superficially friendly, they had really split on 
the problem of Wagner. Little broke the monotony of Berlioz's 
life. He had ample time to suffer and think. In 1866, he con- 
ducted La Damnation de Faust at Vienna. In 1867, no doubt as an 
antidote to the anguish caused by the death, in Havana, of 
his son (a victim of yellow fever), he consented, though a dying 
man, to undertake an onerous conducting tour in Russia. His 
success in St. Petersburg and Moscow was clamorous, and both 
the nationalists and the Rubinstein-Tchaikovsky group paid 


him all honor. By February, 1868, he was back in Paris, but 
restlessness and increasing ill health drove him south. At Monte 
Carlo he suffered a serious fall from the effects of which he never 
recovered. The year left to him is chiefly a record of physical 
and mental disintegration. In August he dragged himself to 
Grenoble to attend the unveiling of a statue of Napoleon. 
There, during a festival in his honor, he was presented with a 
silver-gilt wreath, the immemorial tribute to a conqueror. It was 
his last journey. He died at Paris on March 8, 1869. 

Camille Saint-Saens once complained that "Berlioz's miseries 
were the result of his hankering after the impossible," and some 
of his well-wishers and apologists have inherited that tendency. 
They not only wish Mm to receive his very considerable dues 
they also wish, by scarce-veiled implication, to elevate him to 
the rank of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Mussorgsky, who 
looked at music through a special lens, spoke of "Beethoven 
the thinker and Berlioz the super thinker." This can be a double- 
edged truth, and some of Berlioz's frustrations (and those of his 
admirers) can be attributed to diseased thinking. He was indeed 
"sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought," at least as far as his 
hopes and ambitions were concerned. As a result, the absurd 
claims of such an idolater as WJ/Turner (willing to tear down 
all but Mozart in order to build "up his hero) are counterbal- 
anced by the grudging, niggling admissions of critics and biog- 
raphers who are apparently attracted to Berlioz only by his 
outre qualities. In fact, some of his critics loathe him almost as 
much as many Boswellians loathe their subject. 

What is the truth? Admitting that Berlioz was a supreme 
orchestrator, a melodist of surpassing originality, and a harmonic 
inventor worthy to follow in the line of Rameau, he nevertheless 
suffers from having to be labeled as one of the great originals of 
music. What to some extent negated the effectiveness of these 
great gifts was megalomania, producing vast, impressive but 
too often inchoate and distended structures. A formal sense 
of humility (which in relation to music itself he never denied) 
would have salvaged a thousand brilliant musical ideas by 
putting them in a framework of proper relations. Then Lelio, 


VEnfance du Christ, Les Troyens, Romeo et Juliette even, would not 
continue to exist merely as fabulously stocked museums from 
which individual jewels are abstracted for temporary display. 
Berlioz, the supreme critic, the hard worker, the galley-slave 
of the Journal des debats, was not consistently severe enough with 
himself in the final phase of composition the fusing of a work 
as an artistic entity. The mot unique et juste is always found but 
not always its use. 

Chapter XV 

Franz Liszt 

(Raiding, October 22, i8n-July 31, 1886, Bayreuth) 

TTISZT, more than any other major figure of the romantic move- 
JL * ment, is a creature of legend. Born while Halley's comet was 
coursing through the heavens, he came out of the almost fabled 
land of Hungary, the home of gypsies and werewolves and Ester- 
hazys, a pianist of such dazzling powers that there seemed to be 
something supernatural about him. He was subject to cataleptic 
fits and religious ecstasies. He had been kissed by Beethoven. The 
Parisians called him the ninth wonder of the world who or what 
the eighth was does not develop. He was beautiful beyond the 
ordinary manner of man, and at a tender age began his career as 
the great lover of the century. Noblewomen were his specialty: by 
a countess he had three illegitimate children; he all but married a 
partly divorced princess by special decree of the Vatican, and 
when he was over sixty a Polish-Cossack countess his castoff 
mistress threatened to put poison in his soup. Having made a 
large fortune as a virtuoso, at the height of his fame he decided 
to play only for charity, and to teach for nothing. At the point 
where his loves became too complicated and an old persistent 
yearning for the spiritual life reappeared, he took minor orders in 
the Church. He turned his collar around, became the Abbe Liszt, 
and thenceforth divided his time between Rome and Budapest 
and Weimar, between the Church and a court of pupils thronging 
from every quarter of the globe. He taught half the great pianists 
of the nineteenth century, one of whom is scheduled, as this 
chapter is written, to give a New York recital. He lived seventy- 
five years, and died in the shadow of his son-in-law. 

Liszt was also a composer. His separate works number between 
thirteen and fourteen hundred. Of these, a staggering percentage is 
made up of transcriptions and arrangements of other composers' 
works. Of his wholly original pieces, some are among the most 
popular music ever composed. These, almost without exception, 
are not of high musical quality. But there is a legend about Liszt's 
music, too. It is based on the supposititious high musical quality of 


LISZT 375 

various large works, mostly orchestral or choral, that are seldom 
if ever performed. Those who sustain this legend ask us to believe 
that time has, in the case of Liszt, winnowed maliciously, saving 
the chaff and throwing away 'the good grain. Time might con- 
ceivably cut such capers among the compositions of one long dead 
and all but forgotten. But Liszt has been dead little more than 
sixty years, and since the middle of his life has been as famous as 
Beethoven. It seems incredible, then, that if these neglected works 
were indeed masterpieces, they would be suffered to remain on the 
shelf. We are forced, at any rate, to judge Liszt on the basis of 
what music of his is played or recorded. 

The truth is that Liszt was first a performer, and only later, 
and secondarily, a composer. At the age of nine, he was shown off 
as a virtuoso by his father, a disappointed musician serving as land 
steward to the Esterhazys. Some rich Hungarian nobles thereupon 
guaranteed six years of study in Vienna. Adam Liszt and his 
mainly German wife were glad to leave the dull hamlet of Raiding, 
and accompany Franz. After studying with Czerny and the aged 
Salieri, he made a sensational debut in Vienna shortly after his 
eleventh birthday, and was among those invited to contribute to 
the books of variations on a theme by Diabelli. This was his first 
published composition. Solidly endowed by Czerny with the es- 
sentials of what was to become a unique piano style, Liszt was 
taken on his first extended tour. The venture turned out well, and 
it was decided that the boy was now ready for Paris. A letter from 
Metternich was calculated to unbar for this prodigious little for- 
eigner the jealously guarded doors of the Conservatoire, but 
Cherubim stuck by the letter of the rule against admitting for- 
eigners. The boy had to content himself with private masters. 

For four years Liszt continued his musical studies, keeping him- 
self and his family in funds with Paris concerts and modest forays 
abroad. During three brief visits to England, he was made much of 
and, of course, was received several times by George IV. A few 
days before his fourteenth birthday, his operetta, Don Sanche, was 
presented in Paris. But he was no Rossini: after two repetitions, 
the paltry business was withdrawn, and his career as an opera com- 
poser was over. The fiasco did not mar his fame as a virtuoso, 
which by 1827 had become so considerable that he could face the 
future without economic fears. The same year, his father died 


with the prophetic words on his lips that women would mess up 
Franz 3 life. 

The necessity of paying his father's debts and of supporting his 
mother forced Liszt, at sixteen, to add to his income by giving 
lessons. He promptly fell in love with almost his first pupil, the 
young daughter of one of Charles X's ministers. She returned his 
love, but her father did not, and soon he was shown the door. He 
reacted like a good little romantic, fell into a decline, and was even 
reported dead. He moped in his rooms, reading Byron and books 
on religion, and toying with the Socialistic ideas of Saint-Simon. 
For the first time in his dizzying career, he began to think, not al- 
ways too successfully: there were so many conflicting currents of 
thought that reconciling them was a most difficult matter. Con- 
fusion was in the air, and ended in the absurd revolution of 1830, 
whereby the young Parisian bolshevists replaced a dictator-king, 
who at least had a certain antique arrogance, with a silly, mule- 
headed bourgeois. But Liszt needed something more exciting 
than the July revolution to wake him from his musings. He met, 
in rapid succession, three men who changed the whole tenor of his 
life and gave new impetus to his musical urge. The first was the 
student Berlioz, already a musical anarch experimenting with 
new, bold orchestral effects that Liszt quietly annexed when he 
needed them, and whose ideas on program music also influenced 
him profoundly. In Chopin he glimpsed the power of a lyricism 
surcharged with intense and fluctuating emotions. Berlioz and 
Chopin gave wings to his yearning: they opened vistas into a 
musical never-never land. But it was the diabolical fiddler, Nicolo 
Paganini, who showed Liszt, already aspiring to be the virtuoso of 
virtuosos, that technique itself could be sorcery. In this unsavory 
Italian, he found exactly the elements he was to use in becoming 
the most phenomenal pianist of the century absolute command 
of his instrument, a battery of outlandish technical tricks, a dash 
of diablerie, and an elaborately built-up professional personality. 

Liszt the composer was slow in emerging: many years were to 
pass before he addressed his audience with his first large original 
compositions. After meeting and hearing Paganini, for two years 
he lived the life of an ascetic: with his decision made to become the 
unrivaled pianist, he practiced as no one had practiced before, and 
as few have practiced since. The fruits of this painful self-denial 

LISZT 377 

were not slow in appearing: he had always, it seemed, been an 
accomplished performer, but now, emerging from his retirement 
in 1832, became almost at once what he had intended to become 
the Paganini of the keyboard. Paris lay at his feet, and among 
those who succumbed to his newly found greatness was "Monsieui 
Lits" himself. Just as Chopin wafted himself and his adoring 
countesses into a dreamworld of his making as his fingers whis- 
pered over the ivory keys in darkened salons, so Liszt, as he walked 
onto the stage and saw the whole great world of Paris as a blur 
of expectant faces, was intoxicated by his power. 

Mme Liszt, who shared her son's modest rooms, could not have 
been an effective duenna, for it was during this time that he em- 
barked seriously on his amours. He made a few trial flights, and 
scandalized the old gossips of the Faubourg Saint-Germain by 
going off to Switzerland with a countess and her husband. They 
were in for worse fioutings of their conventions. In 1833, Liszt's 
extraordinary beauty and Byronic manner attracted the attention 
of a great lady, Countess Marie d'AgouIt. Although she was six 
years his senior, married, and the mother of three children, Liszt 
responded so ardently that they were both carried off their feet 
and, before they were fully aware of the possible consequences of 
their actions, were immersed in a passionate love affair. Liszt had 
no qualms, and Mme d'Agoult had few: her husband was twenty 
years older than she a cold, boring court official from whom she 
was estranged. As early as March, 1835, ^7 were so inextricably 
involved with each other that they could not have turned back, 
even if they had wished. They decided to elope, and by August, 
after a distracted search for the most congenial retreat, were 
settled at Geneva. There their first child, Blandine, was born in 
December, and their rejoicings over her birth seemed a guarantee 
of eternal happiness. 

And at first the lovers were happy, idyllically so. Liszt was 
trying to compose the first sketches for the Anmes de pelerinage 
were published in 1835 an d was teaching at a music school in 
Geneva. As for the Countess, she was content to be cut off from 
the world with Franz and her children. She did not reckon with 
Liszt's love of adulation or with the fact that the scandal they had 
caused had made them objects of interest to prurient sightseers. 
Soon their solitude was invaded, first by a madcap boy of fifteeji, 


Liszt's favorite pupil. Then George Sand, disguised as an army 
officer, burst in on them, and it may well be that this sudden intru- 
sion gave the Countess the impulse that later transformed her into 
the writer Daniel Stern. The idyl was over. From this time on they 
were wanderers, slowly drifting apart, though for some years ap- 
parently wholly devoted to each other. They had two more chil- 
dren: Cosima, born on Christmas., 1837, and Daniel, born two 
years later. 

The Countess mistrusted the world, but the need for money 
made going back to it a necessity. Liszt had settled most of his earn- 
ings on his mother, the Countess had but a small income, and a 
fortune lay at the tips of Liszt's fingers. They decided to face the 
censorious eyes of the faubourgs , and so returned with Mme Sand. 
Liszt re-entered Paris in what must have seemed to him an evil 
hour: the city was ringing with praise of the pianist Thalberg, the 
beautifully mannered illegitimate son of an Austrian prince, and 
momentarily he found himself in second place. He accepted the 
situation as a challenge. When Thalberg came back early in 1837, 
they entered on a protracted keyboard duel that culminated in an 
epochal bout at the home of Princess Cristina Belgiojoso, a noted 
musical philanthropist. Both of them played works that would 
hardly be tolerated on conceit programs today, Thalberg his own 
fantasia on Rossini's Motse, Liszt his fantasia on the Niobe of 
Giovanni Pacini, a Rossini imitator. Briefly, Thalberg played 
more suavely, Liszt more excitedly and Liszt was judged the 
winner. It was a famous victory. Thalberg retired discomfited, 
but not so discomfited as the Lisztians would have us believe, and 
both victor and vanquished went on to make a great deal of 
money playing the piano for many years thereafter. 

His defeat of Thalberg made Liszt the most sought-after pianist 
alive. Up to 1847, his life is the story of his concert tours. For sev- 
eral years, while his love for the Countess d' Agoult still exercised a 
strong restraining influence, he remained a musician who gave a 
few concerts, though it is probable that at this very time he was 
already conceiving of the virtuoso's career in revolutionary terms. 
But in 1840, when it was obvious that, despite the common respon- 
sibilities entailed by three children, the bonds were loosening, 
Liszt abandoned himself completely to its allures. Had not his 
virtuosity already raised him to a pinnacle of glory attained by 

LISZT 379 

few of even the greatest composers? In November, 1839, leaving 
the Countess with five children on her hands (two D'Agoult, three 
nameless) , he went off to Vienna to give a series of six piano re- 
citals, having agreed to raise singlehanded all the money for the 
Beethoven memorial at Bonn. This was the first series of real piano 
recitals ever given, though earlier that year he had experimented 
with a Roman audience in giving an entire program of piano solos. 
Moreover, he had revolutionized the art of piano showmanship: 
in order to advertise his striking profile (which became more and 
more Dantesque with the years), he turned the side of the piano 
to the audience. (Previously even the handsomest of keyboard 
Adonises had either presented their backs to the public or faced it 
over the instrument.) The Vienna recitals fully justified his in- 
novations: three thousand people were in the hall for the first 
recital, and the series ended in a fanfare of triumph. A Hungarian 
delegation came to invite him home, and after stopping at Press- 
burg, where his arrival forced the Prince Palatine of Hungary to 
postpone his levee rather than be ignored, Liszt made a royal 
progress into Budapest. There, in a hysteria of national fervor, at- 
tired in a magnificent thousand-franc Magyar costume bought for 
the occasion, Liszt was presented with a jeweled saber. There was 
talk at the time of his being ennobled, but it came to nothing ex- 
cept as material for persiflage among the Parisian wits. His vanity 
had become so monstrous that the Countess wrote him not to 
make an ass of himself. 

But the Countess 5 words carried little weight with him now. He 
was wedded to his gilded wayfaring. He lived for the applause, the 
adulation of the Lisztians whom he created as he played, the flat- 
tery of kings and their jeweled orders and the complaisant noble- 
women, with a peasant girl or two thrown in to add tang, who 
waited along his route. Within seven years his tours took him to 
Berlin, Copenhagen, Constantinople, Leipzig, Lisbon, London, Ma- 
drid, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw, as well as scores of 
smaller towns, some of them jerkwaters in remote Moldavia and 
Russia. England alone greeted him coldly: though Queen Victoria 
received him at Buckingham Palace (this indiscretion may be laid 
to her youth), her subjects judged him a libertine and poseur, and 
stayed away from his recitals. Everywhere else he went, the honor 
of entertaining Liszt was fought for by the local nobility, much to 


his delight. He dearly loved a title, and while he was still corre- 
sponding with Mme d'Agoult, though neglecting to speak of his 
amorous conquests, rarely missed a chance to boast of the princes 
and counts he bagged. And yet, Liszt stopped short of being a 
toady, and even ruling monarchs were not exempt from his wrath 
when his, or music's, dignity was impugned. He once reprimanded 
the Iron Tsar himself for talking while he was playing. He refused 
to play for Isabella II of Spain because court etiquette would not 
allow him to be presented to her personally. And he was snobbish 
even about kings. He snubbed poor old Louis-Philippe repeatedly 
for not belonging to the elder branch of the Bourbon family. 

Today, when the vast majority of piano recitals are given for 
the purpose of re-creating the best music in that repertoire, it is 
a harsh comment on the taste of Liszt's age that he climbed to the 
zenith of musical fame largely by playing his own compositions at 
public recitals. In private, he played everything, inventing, in 
fact, the repertoire that has been standard ever since. Nothing 
available for the piano escaped his omnivorous attention, and he 
was equally at home with Bach and Scarlatti, Mozart and Beetho- 
ven, Chopin and Schumann. Had his public programs represented 
this catholicity of interest, the subsequent history of the piano re- 
cital might have been different. He had an opportunity given to 
few: that of creating simultaneously an audience and its taste. He 
chose the showman's way,* and whipped up a passion for virtuoso 
exhibitionism for its own sake from which pianists suffered for 
more than half a century. He played mainly his own transcrip- 
tions of everything from a Donizetti march to a Beethoven sym- 
phony, from the national anthem of whatever country he happened 
to be visiting to a Schubert lied; he played the showiest and noisi- 
est of his Etudes transcendantes, and almost inevitably closed with his 
Grand Galop chromatique, an absurd collection of scales and difficul- 
ties that even the idolatrous Sacheverell Sitwell cannot stomach, 

* In more ways than one. His appearance was deliberately theatrical: his style of 
dress was exaggeratedly rich, his coiffure absurd. At his Russian debut he was cov- 
ered with clanking orders, and we read that he "mounted the platform, and, pulHng 
his dogskin gloves from his shapely white hands, tossed them carelessly on the floor." 
Part of his act was to lead a deeply emotional life at the piano, and he cleverly used 
his disheveled locks as excitants. "Constantly tossing back his long hair, with lips 
quivering, his nostrils palpitating, he swept the auditorium with the glance of a 
smiling master" : such was the impression of the dramatist Legouve, who was writing 
in an entirely friendly spirit. 

LISZT 3^1 

It took a PaderewsH and a De Pachmann and a few others to free 
the punch-drunk audiences from that unnatural conception of the 
recital as an athletic bout of piano-pounding and sensationalism^ 
of which Liszt himself may not have approved, but for which he 
was unquestionably to blame. For the saddest part of Liszt* s pub- 
He perversion of his unparalleled pianistic gifts is that he was aware 
of it. He had a certain contempt for much of what he was playing 
and, by implication, for his audiences. Once, when he was re- 
proached for his trashy operatic fantasias, he said, "Ah, if I had 
written only Faust and Dante Symphonies, I shouldn't be able to 
give my friends trout with iced champagne." 

Mme d'Agoult shared Liszt's triumphs, but only from a distance^ 
and with increasing displeasure. She disliked the charlatan in him, 
and was affronted by his affairs, particularly when the names 
coupled with his began to include such women about town as the 
Princess Belgiojoso and George Sand, and such out-and-out cour- 
tesans as Lola Montez and the lovely Marie Duplessis, whom the 
younger Dumas immortalized in La Dame OMX camelias. By 1844, 
they had come to the final parting of their ways, though they cor- 
responded well into the fifties- After that, except for a chance en- 
counter or so and one coldly formal letter from Liszt, dated 1864, 
there was silence between them. Liszt did not even send her a for- 
mal condolence when two of their children Daniel and Blandine 
died, and when the Countess herself died in 1876, he spoke of 
her in the most perfunctory and stilted phrases. 

In 1843, Liszt was invited to spend a few months each year as 
musical director of the grand ducal court at Weimar. Although he 
did not realize it at the time, his acceptance brought about a com- 
plete change in the direction of his life. He had begun to grow 
weary of constantly gallivanting around Europe and, as he already 
had all the money he needed, he wanted to settle down and devote 
most of his time to composing. Slowly he came to the decision to 
retire from the concert stage, and in 1847 made his last tour. This 
took him finally to Russia, where at Kiev he was captured by the 
second woman who played a salient role in his life. This was Her 
Serene Highness the Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, a highly 
connected Polish matron of twenty-eight. To her vast estate at 
Woronince, where she lived in feudal state, surrounded by the 
thirty thousand serfs she had inherited from her father, he was 


carried off in triumph. The Princess was, of course, a misunder- 
stood wife, and soon they were lovers. There, on the edge of the 
Russian steppes, while she lay on a bearskin rug smoking a cigar, 
Liszt played to her, and exposed his plan of abandoning the tinsel 
and glitter of the world. The Princess, who was of a religious and 
mystical nature, clung to the master, and agreed to retire with 
him to Weimar. With their plan of renunciation complete, Liszt 
went off to play his last paid recital at Elisavetgrad, of all places! 
The Princess, on her part, got in touch with a good house agent in 
Weimar, and leased a commodious residence there. Within a year 
they were comfortably settled in the Altenburg, which was to be 
their joint home for ten years.* 

Having renounced the world, Liszt now entered upon three 
major careers. Henceforth he was to become the most sought-after 
of piano teachers. For more than a dozen years he was to be the 
most hospitable of conductors, with especial warmth toward young 
composers. And finally, until within four years of his death, he was 
to unloose the floodgates of one of the most original, daring, and 
tasteless talents in the history of musical composition. The Alten- 
burg, far from being a retreat, became an active center of Euro- 
pean culture, a development that horrified the right-thinking 
burghers of Weimar. The little town, whose picture of an artist 
was still based on the portly, respectable figure of the aged Goethe, 
took a long time to get used to Liszt's long hair and his cigar- 
smoking Polish mistress. 

But it was at stufiy little Weimar that Liszt first won the regard 
of all his serious confreres. He received about a thousand dollars 
a year as general director, and his budgets were similarly pinched. 
Yet, with them he wrought miracles. Having raised his band to 
something approximating concert pitch, he began a series of con- 
certs remarkable alike for their range and discrimination. In ad- 
dition to the best works of dead composers Handel, Haydn, 
Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn were liberally represented 
he gave many novelties by his contemporaries. In choosing these 
compositions, Liszt was above any petty spites. He was notably 
generous in Ms attitude toward Schumann, who treated him with 

* The court maintained the polite fiction that Liszt was not living at the Alten- 
burg, and for twelve years addressed official communications to him at a hotel where 
he had stopped briefly on his first arrival in Weimar, and where he apparently kept a 

LISZT 383 

rude animosity. He gave enthusiastic performances of Schumann's 
symphonies. He was even more lavish toward the difficult and 
generally misunderstood Berlioz, performing within a week not 
only the Symphonie fantastique, but also several of his overtures and 
the long-neglected Harold en Italic. 

At the opera house, Liszt undertook a small revolution of his 
own, revolutions being in style about the year 1848. It was not 
that he neglected Gluck and Mozart or Rossini and Meyerbeer, 
the gods cf the epoch, but that he challenged their operas with the 
most frightful inventions of newcomers. Most brazenly, in February, 
1849, he staged an opera by Richard Wagner a doubly bold act, 
for the composer was a banished political agitator. Tannhduser 
was as outrageous for its musical radicalism as for Wagner's poli- 
tics* And perhaps the fare was too rich for the people of Weimar. 
Within a few years, they were asked to accept three operas by this 
bold, bad radical, not to speak ofFidelio, Berlioz' Emmnuto Cellini 
and rather cheerless La Damnation de Faust., two stage pieces by a 
young Italian named Verdi, and Schumann's Gmoveva, which was 
generally esteemed sad stuff, but of which Liszt said, CC I prefer 
certain faults to certain virtues the mistakes of clever people to 
the effects of mediocrity. In this sense there are failures which are 
better than many a success. 55 All these the Weimarers took, though 
grumblingly. When they finally balked, it was unexpectedly at the 
jovial Barbier von Bagdad by Peter Cornelius, with its timid traces 
of Wagnerism. 

Opinions of Liszt as a conductor differ, though they are at one 
today as to his intelligence as a musical host. Ferdinand Hiller 
accused him bluntly of beating time inaccurately and of confusing 
his men. But Liszt's friends pointed out that Hiller had heard him 
at the Karlsruhe Festival conducting an orchestra to which he was 
a stranger. Chorley, who heard him conduct a Berlioz opera in 
Weimar, said that "the real beauties ... of this perplexed and 
provoking work were brought as near to the comprehension and 
sympathy of those who heard it as they will probably be ever 
brought." It seems reasonable that Liszt, who assumed the baton 
unexpectedly and rather later than usual, was never a really good 
conductor. In all probability, he carried over into conducting the 
theatricality and unpredictable personal effects of his pianism 
not the best equipment for inspiring an orchestral ensemble with 


the necessary confidence: the unpremeditated flashes of inspiration 
that had done much to make him an exciting virtuoso would 
merely throw orchestral players off the track. Liszt, in short, was 
an occasionally brilliant but not reliable conductor. Wagner, who 
had much to thank Liszt for, in writing of the first Weimar pei - 
formance of Tannkauser, evades, in a moment of forbearance, the 
touchy question of Liszt's actual conducting by saying that he had 
a perfect musical grasp of the opera. 

Liszt's enthusiasm for Wagner was the indirect cause of his leav- 
ing Weimar. For some years, he had been trying to force a per- 
formance of the entire Ring on Grand Duke Karl Alexander, who 
had neither the funds nor the taste for such a production. An anti- 
Liszt party gradually gained the upper hand at court, moralistic 
tongues wagged faster than ever, and Liszt chose this inopportune 
time to state that if he could not give the Ring, he would at least 
give Tristan und Isolde. The sovereign responded to this challenge 
by cutting his budgets to the bone. Liszt was infuriated and, de- 
spite warning that he would have to soft-pedal anything new- 
fangled, went ahead with plans for producing his pupil Cornelius' 
mildly advanced opera. At its premiere., on December 15, 1858, Der 
Barbier wn Bagdad was hissed off the boards. Liszt promptly re- 
signed his post. 

As a matter of fact, Liszt's position in Weimar had been getting 
daily less and less tenable. At first, the Princess had been received 
at court, and the gossips had had to restrain their tongues. But